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Students are set to return to university next week (Credit: PA)


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As thousands of students prepare to return to university, the towns and cities that usually welcome them are steeling themselves for potential rifts with local residents after six months of lockdown.

Council leaders in student towns say they are being ignored while decisions are taken in Westminster that could cause irreparable damage to their communities. 

Liverpool is currently listed as an area of “concern” in terms of rising cases of Covid-19, with just over 31 infections being recorded weekly per 100,000 people.

The city took decisive action a few weeks ago when a localised outbreak was identified in Princes Park, Toxteth, but leaders fear they will not be able to contain larger incidents. 

“We are very conscious that we only really got hit by coronavirus the first time in the middle of February and the number of institutions that will be potentially affected second time around will be much broader,” Paul Brant, Liverpool City Council cabinet member for health told PoliticsHome.

“The demands on the service will be much greater and we have not seen an increase in resource to meet that additional need.

“There is a fundamental incoherence in the government’s policy of saying everyone should go back to city centres for everything work-related, then act as if there is a highly infectious virus in terms of any social activity. It’s bizarre.”

“Our public health teams are already stretched to breaking point providing assistance to care homes, our health transport service and to schools,” Cllr Brant added.

“We will inevitably have some localised outbreaks in the student population,  which will be in higher density areas and any form of lockdown exacerbates tensions like a pressure cooker.

“We don’t have anything like the support we need to deal with this.”

When one Labour MP asked if her city would be offered government cash to beef up local contact tracing to help cut the potential spread of the virus, she was told her question was “too complicated to answer”.

Sheffield has also made it onto the list of areas of concern, prompting local MP Olivia Blake to submit a written question to the Department of Health and Social Care.

“I asked government what resources they would give to local authorities in areas like ours to do contact tracing at a local level, to get on top of any potential outbreaks quickly and they said my question was too complicated to answer,” she said.

In its official response, the department said it would “not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period” and that an answer would be “provided as soon as it is available”.

But for many community leaders, time is not a luxury they can afford – with the university term official starting in less than a week.

“It certainly doesn’t fill you with confidence and I am worried about it.  It just shows there is no plan for dealing with this particular issue,” Ms Blake, whose constituency contains two universities, said.

“The people who are best at this are clearly local authorities who know their communities, who know the areas where students live and I fear there are going to be difficult times ahead unless they are given proper support.”

She added: “I am pretty worried about it – we are going to see thousands of students travelling to Sheffield, out of Sheffield, right across the country at a time when there is huge pressure being placed on young people to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The government guidance is very weak in this area and different universities are acting in different ways.  And while in Sheffield, the council and universities have a joint plan in place, the powers and ability of local services to cope are going to be massively stretched by this. 

“It’s hugely irresponsible of the government to continue to press ahead, when some of the biggest northern cities are on the cusp of needing more intervention.”

In Oxford, students from both of the city’s universities are beginning to return ahead of an October start. Deputy council leader Tom Hayes said the situation is already causing alarm among some local residents.

“My ward has a high student population, with lots of multiple-occupation households in the private rental sector, alongside permanent residents,” he told PoliticsHome.

“There are residents in some streets who have been here for 30 or 40 years.  They’re used to living alongside students, and the odd complaint about noise or parties aside, there has always been a very easy relationship between generations.

“But some of these residents, particularly those who are older and have spent months in lockdown, are genuinely very frightened that there is going  to be a concentration of people from outside Oxford all now coming together in one place.”

A lack of consultation, information and support from Westminster has exacerbated tensions, Cllr Hayes said, with “clarity of communication” a particular problem for community leaders.

“Pointing the finger of blame at young people does nothing except sow division among these communitites that have lived side by side quite happily for so long,” he added.

“At the start of lockdown, students were going out to get milk and shopping for older residents who couldn’t go outside and they are ready and willing to help in that way again.  I have had students contact me to ask what they should be doing to ensure they stick by the rules, because they are so confused by the government guidance. 

“And when the first we hear of the new rules is from a BBC news alert on our phones, there is little we can do to help ease people’s concerns.

“I’d say I’d like councils in university cities and towns to be at the front of the queue for conversations and consultation with central government about impending restrictions, but in reality the queue doesn’t even exist.  We’ve been completely ignored.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

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Poisoned Navalny plots his return, but Russia’s opposition activists wonder who might be next

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It’s not just Navalny who has been under attack.

Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, bursting in to the office of “Coalition Novosibirsk 2020,” which is also headquarters of Navalny’s local team.

One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid — described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses — at volunteers who were there for a lecture about the upcoming local elections, before running off.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin’s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name but a few,” says longtime Russia analyst Valeriy Akimenko from the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”

Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when he does return to Russia?

“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.

“I can have as much protection as I like, but I have to touch doorknobs and breathe air,” he says. “The only real precautionary measure I’ve been able to take is to get my family out of the country.”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either of the attacks on Kara-Murza, though his wife has directly accused the Russian government of bearing responsibility.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the weeks since has hardly been reassuring, given the near-death of a prominent politician.

“Just look at what’s been coming out of Russia,” he says. “Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying no need for Putin to meet Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying no legal grounds for a criminal inquiry; Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin talking instead about an investigation into possible foreign provocation; and on state TV, ceaseless attempts to muddy the waters by blaming anyone but the Russian state.”

As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t enough of a risk for Navalny, other Putin critics believe that what is being seen as a failed assassination attempt, in order to scare opponents, might have backfired.

“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this may prove to be a spectacular miscalculation that only empowers the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a prominent financier who became a thorn in the side of Putin after leading the push for a US sanctions act named after Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.

Kara-Murza points out that in the very area of Siberia where the campaign office attack took place, Navalny’s allies made gains against Putin’s ruling United Russia in elections this past weekend.

“When Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to demonstrate how sick they are of Putin’s one-man rule,” he told CNN.

Whenever he does return to Russia, the risk both to him and his supporters is likely to remain very high; has this affected the opposition’s morale?

“Putin rules by symbolism,” says Browder. “To take the most popular opposition politician and poison him with a deadly nerve agent is intended to scare the less popular ones into submission.”

So, will it work?

Kara-Murza says the Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015, just days before he was due to take part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, used to tell his allies: “We must do what we must and come what may. Of course, we understand the dangers, but we are determined, not scared.”

And while Akimenko says: “If Russia’s opposition leaders aren’t worried, they should be,” he adds that: “They have been fearless in the face of both personal physical attacks against Navalny and persecution disguised as prosecution.”

The Navalny episode revealed the dangers of political opposition in Russia to the world.

But for those actively involved in that fight, it has merely underscored the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza

“I was poisoned twice,” he said. “Both times I was in [a] coma. Both times doctors told my wife I had 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about safety; it’s about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too much of a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who stand in opposition gave up and ran.”

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow

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Engel subpoenas head of government’s foreign broadcast media agencies

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Pack has previously insisted his personnel changes were a routine part of new leadership at a large organization.

A spokesperson for U.S. Agency for Global Media on Friday said Pack couldn’t attend due to a conflict with the original hearing date.

“Michael Pack is disappointed that the Committee has decided to escalate the situation,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Pack is eager to testify before the Committee to talk about the critical work of USAGM and to answer Members’ questions.”

Engel recently subpoenaed the State Department for documents connected to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s investigation of Joe Biden’s relationships in Ukraine, a probe that Democrats say is politically motivated and potentially tainted by Russian disinformation.

Engel is also probing Trump’s decision earlier this year to fire State Department inspector general Steve Linick.

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Every Local Authority Subject To New Restrictions Across Great Britain

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Some areas of the UK are currently subject to stricter coronavirus restrictions (PA)


3 min read

Coronavirus hotspots across the UK have been subjected to localised lockdown restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the virus—use PoliticsHome’s interactive map to find out what restrictions apply where.

 

Each of the UK’s four nations sets its own public health policies, meaning restrictions differ between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland

Selected postcodes in Northern Ireland are subject to localised restrictions as of 10 September. Visit nidirect.gov.uk to view the affected areas

Postcode areas may be added and removed from the local restrictions as the patterns of infection change, and further interventions and restrictions could be added as necessary.

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay one metre apart from each other as of 29 June. Up to 15 people from different households can meet outdoors, and up to six people from two different households indoors.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

England

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings such as museums, cinemas, galleries and places of worship. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay two metres apart from each other but, where this is not possible, one metre is advised. 

Gatherings of more than six people are illegal both indoors and outdoors as of 14 September. Weddings and funerals can still go ahead with a limit of 30 people if conducted in a Covid-secure way.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen. Nightclubs have not been allowed to reopen.

People are no longer encouraged to work from home as of 1 August, but workplaces must follow Covid-secure guidelines if they plan to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Scotland

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay two metres apart from each other. Gatherings of more than six people are illegal both indoors and outdoors as of 14 September, except for children under 11.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Wales

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay two metres apart from each other. People can only gather in groups of up to six indoors and must all belong to the same extended household group. Up to four households are able to join together to form an extended household. Children under 11 are exempt.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

 

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