Coronavirus in Europe: UK and France record most daily cases since start of pandemic, as university outbreaks linked to parties
French health authorities reported 16,096 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours. A total of 31,511 people have died from coronavirus in France, and 497,237 cases have been reported.
The UK reported 6,634 new cases, bringing its total confirmed cases to 416,363, Public Health England (PHE) tweeted.
“This is the highest number recorded and a stark warning for us all. The signals are clear. Positivity rates are rising across all age groups and we’re continuing to see spikes in rates of admission to hospital and critical care,” said Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle.
Forty more deaths were reported in the UK Thursday and its death toll, according to PHE, now stands at 41,902 — Europe’s highest.
Spain’s Health Ministry reported 10,653 new Covid-19 cases Thursday, bringing the total to 704,209. Madrid’s region reported 210,768 cases, almost 30% of the national tally.
The country’s Health Minister, Salvador Illa, said Friday his government has recommended a total lockdown in the capital. “I think we have difficult weeks to come for Madrid and we need to act decisively,” Illa said.
The surge comes as thousands of students across Europe began self-isolating following outbreaks of Covid-19.
All 2,500 students at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland’s most prestigious hospitality school, are quarantining after outbreaks linked to “one or more parties,” the Vaud Canton regional authority said Wednesday.
Several Scottish universities reported Covid-19 outbreaks linked to illicit gatherings during start of term celebrations known as “Freshers’ Week.”
On Wednesday, 600 students at the University of Glasgow were told to self-isolate after 124 new cases were confirmed. The University of St. Andrews, one of the UK’s most elite colleges and Prince William’s alma mater, asked students to go into voluntary lockdown last Friday after an uptick in cases that it linked to one party.
Meanwhile, UK grocery giant Tesco on Friday announced three-item limits on essentials including flour, dried pasta, toilet roll and antibacterial wipes, to avoid the panic-buying that caused shortages in spring.
A spokesperson said: “We have good availability, with plenty of stock to go round, and we would encourage our customers to shop as normal.”
Europe under pressure
The Paris public hospitals authority announced it will start canceling some non-elective procedures in coming days to make room for coronavirus patients, although it said it would be on a case-by-case basis and not “global cancellation as in mid-March.”
The EU’s Health Commissioner warned that Europe is at a “decisive” point in dealing with its second wave, and the actions taken now will determine the severity of restrictions needed in the coming months.
Italy, the worst-affected European country early in the pandemic, reported a relatively low increase of 1,786 new cases Thursday, but its health minister cautioned: “The situation in Europe is serious and cannot be underestimated.
“I believe that we must keep our feet on the ground and continue to invest in the line of prudence.”
CNN’s Amy Cassidy, Niamh Kennedy, Nadine Schmidt and Livia Borghese contributed to this report.
India farmers protests: Thousands swarm Delhi against deregulation rules
Farmers from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh began arriving by tractors and on foot at the outskirts of New Delhi last week, where they blocked roads and set up makeshift camps, according to protest leaders. Some slept on the road or in their tractors, and several places of worship offered protesters food.
Police attempted to block demonstrators from entering the city. They fired tear gas and water cannons Thursday and Friday after protesters pelted police officers with stones and damaged public property, according to Manoj Yadav, a senior police official from Haryana.
The farmers are protesting laws passed in September, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says will give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and sell directly to private businesses, such as supermarket chains.
According to Ashutosh Mishra, the media coordinator of protest organizer All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee, which represents around 200 farming unions, tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered at each of New Delhi’s three borders — a line of protesters at one of the borders stretches for 30 kilometers (19 miles), he said.
Police have put up barriers and dug up roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city center to hold sit-ins. Mishra expects more farmers from around the country to join the protests in the coming days.
That’s despite New Delhi being a hotspot for Covid-19 in a country that has already reported more than 9.4 million reported cases, the most in any country bar the United States.
“We are trying to be weary of Covid but we don’t have an option — it is a question of life and death,” said Mukut Singh, the president of a farmers union in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who is leading thousands in protest in his home state, and says he will join the protesters in Delhi later this week.
“We are the ones who have provided food, milk, vegetables when the whole country was in lockdown — we were still toiling in the fields,” he said. “It is the government who has put us at risk by introducing these laws during Covid.”
What the protests are about
For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term certainty that allows them to make investments for the next crop cycle.
Under the previous laws, farmers had to sell their goods at auction at their state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee, where they were guaranteed to get at least the government-agreed minimum price. There were restrictions on who could purchase at auction and prices were capped for essential commodities.
Modi’s new laws dismantle the committee structure, allowing farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price. Farmers have more freedom to do things such as sell direct to buyers and sell to other states.
Modi said increasing market competition would be a good thing as it fulfills farmers’ demands for higher income and gives them new rights and opportunities.
“The farmers should get the advantage of a big and comprehensive market which opens our country to global markets,” Modi said on Monday, as farmers protested in the capital. He hopes it will attract private investment into the agricultural industry, which has lagged as other parts of the country’s economy have modernized.
But farmers argue that the rules could help big companies drive down prices. While farmers could sell crops at elevated prices if the demand is there, conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply in the market.
Singh, the Uttar Pradesh farmer, said that removing the price guarantees will make life tougher for farmers.
“There is a lot of anger among farmers,” he said. “We don’t get even the minimum support price that is presently declared — removing these protections and making it easier for corporates to enter will completely buy us out.”
Why it’s such a hot political issues
That’s made farming a central political issue, with farmers arguing for years to get the minimum guaranteed prices increased.
Modi and his government continue to insist that they are supporting farmers.
“The Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has always stood in full commitment to resolving the problems faced by farmers and will continue to stand by them,” said Narendra Singh Tomar, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare.
Tomar urged farmers to abandon their protests and instead discuss their issues with the government — although so far, Modi has shown no sign of capitulating to protesters’ demands.
House steering panel backs DeLauro for Appropriations chair
While the full caucus typically backs the Steering Committee’s pick, an upset has occurred as recently as 2014.
Lawmakers and aides watching the race expect it will be decided on a second round of voting for DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz, with allies of the Florida Democrat hopeful she can eke out a win with the help of Kaptur supporters forced to throw their support behind another candidate. The Ohio Democrat is not expected to secure enough support on the first ballot.
Kaptur, 74, the most senior Democrat on the spending panel and the longest-serving woman in Congress, has won support from many members of the Congressional Black Caucus — a powerful bloc that typically respects seniority in leadership elections. Supporters of Wasserman Schultz say she could win if she can secure even some of those votes.
DeLauro’s supporters, however, are confident that the close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and long-time champion of the public health and education communities will be confirmed as chair.
Pelosi typically doesn’t get involved in steering races after she publicly backed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in 2014, who won the steering panel’s nod to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2014, only to lose the spot in a stunning caucus-wide vote. The caucus instead chose Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who went on to become Energy and Commerce chair.
DeLauro — the second-most senior contender for the gavel who controls the largest chunk of nondefense spending as the head of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee — has long been expected to lead the appropriations panel and has a reputation for working with senior Republican appropriators like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
DeLauro, 77, is a “work horse” and a “force of nature,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who’s pushing her colleagues to vote for the Connecticut Democrat, in an interview last month. “Her appeal is that she has integrity, that she has wisdom, that she’s such a hard worker and a strong fighter for the issues that she cares about.“
Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Military Construction-VA spending panel, has been expected to pick up support from freshmen, moderates and some members of the CBC. Supporters point to her robust fundraising for Democrats — particularly for vulnerable members that will be crucial to keeping the House majority in 2022.
Some Democrats said a disappointing Election Day that cost the party more than a half-dozen House seats underscores the need for change, including a more moderate candidate that could bring generational diversity to the leadership ranks.
“I think that in the aftermath of the election, it makes clear that the old ways of doing things just aren’t going to work anymore,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats who supports Wasserman Schultz, said last month.
The three Democrats are vying to succeed retiring Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the first woman ever to lead the spending panel. All three have vowed to make the appropriations process more transparent and accessible to members, while supporting the return of earmarked spending to help Democrats secure cash for pet projects at home.
Heather Caygle contributed to this report.
Boris Johnson Has Suffered The Worst Rebellion Of This Parliament, But Won A Key Vote On Tier Restrictions
7 min read
Boris Johnson has won a vote on his controversial tier system of coronavirus restrictions but only after suffering the worst rebellion by his own MPs of this Parliament.
A total of 53 Conservatives rejected his plans to place almost the entirety of England into tough new measures once the second lockdown ends tomorrow night. There were fraught scenes in the Commons, with one MP describing the atmosphere as reminding them of the Brexit votes in 2019 which eventually brought down Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May.
But the legislation still passed through the Commons by 291 votes to 78 – a winning margin of 213 – after Labour’s official policy was to abstain, although 15 of the party’s MPs defied the whip and voted against it.
However, it is far from a convincing victory for Number 10, with the number of rebels failing to back the plans enough to have comfortably wiped out the government’s 80-seat majority if the opposition had all voted against it.
Among them were seven former Cabinet ministers and a host of senior figures in the party, along with a dozen from the 2019 intake of new Conservatives.
It represents the biggest number of Tory MPs defying a three-line whip since last year’s election victory, and does not bode well for future votes on coronavirus restrictions due next month.
Explaining how the Prime Minister ended up facing yet another rebellion, Conservative ex-minister Tim Loughton MP told PoliticsHome: “I don’t know why the government is doing this.
“We have had eight months of lockdown and in those eight months the government could have learned an awful lot about what things cost, the balance of the risks, they just haven’t produced that evidence to inspire confidence in what they are asking us to do.”
He said Mr Johnson was unlikely to be in serious trouble politically but there is a “general frustration” that MPs were not being treated like grown ups, saying they are “being fobbed off with vague attempts at justification”.
The vote came after the Prime Minister had spent the afternoon trying to win round sceptical backbenchers in Parliament following a speech to open the debate in which he argued there was a “compelling necessity” for the regional tiers.
He said despite the positive effect of the second lockdown on infections people “cannot afford to relax” saying: “We have to be realistic and we have to accept that this vaccine is not here yet, no vaccine is here yet.
“And whilst all the signs are promising and almost every scientist I have talked to agrees that the breakthrough will surely come, we do not yet have one that has gained regulatory approval.
“And we can’t be completely sure when the moment will arrive. And until then, we cannot afford to relax, especially during the cold months of winter.”
Among those Tories to vote against were MPs from Kent – which moved after lockdown from Tier 1 to Tier 3 – Tom Tugendhat, Greg Clark, Damian Green, Craig Mackinlay. The former party leader Iain Duncan Smith also voted against.
Defending the measures, which were roundly criticised by his own party for being too severe, Mr Johnson said: “I’m not this afternoon seeking open-ended measures. On the contrary, these regulations come with a sunset clause… at the end of February 2 and at that point… we will have sufficient data to assess our position after Christmas.
“And though I believe these types of restrictions will be needed until the spring, they can only be extended beyond February 2 if this House votes for them.”
And he criticised Labour for having “no credible plan” to tackle coronavirus and mockingly accused them of the “heroically” abstaining on the vote, saying: “I do think however it is extraordinary that in spite of the barrage of criticism that we have, we have no credible plan from the party opposite, indeed we have no view on the way ahead.”
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party could not back the legislation claiming there are “real risks that this plan is incapable of controlling the virus this winter”.
He told the Commons the government’s policies so far have not worked, but added: “We recognise the need for continued restrictions but it’s not in the national interest to vote these restrictions down today and we will allow these restrictions to pass.
“We accept the case for restrictions, we want a plan that’s going to work. We’re on plan five and this one’s full of holes. We have been there so, so many times; the Prime Minister’s stood there and said this is the plan, this will solve the problem.
“Fifth time round, still a plan with holes that have been there for months.”
There was lots of anger from Mr Johnson’s own side, with a number of former Cabinet ministers attacking the plan, including Andrea Leadsom who said the regulations would “inflict deliberate harm” on her constituency.
Fellow Conservative Steve Baker, one of the leaders of the Covid Recovery Group which has vocally opposed the plans, said: “Here we stand at a profoundly dangerous moment, heading into infringements on our liberties around vaccination and testing which we would never normally tolerate and so therefore I find with huge reluctance, I’m going to have to vote no tonight to send a message to the government.”
And senior MP Sir Bob Neill said he could not support the regulations as they were “disproportionate” and went beyond the evidence, while fellow select committee chair William Wragg added: “Now if these measures are arbitrary and there is no exact science behind them, the sooner that the government would admit that – because at least it would be an honest approach.
“But as it has not done so, I can’t support these measures this evening.”
On the Labour side the former shadow justice minister Richard Burgon tweeted he voted against the restrictions as it would “fail to drive the virus down properly while we await a vaccine and the lack of decent sick pay is a disgrace”.
His colleague Toby Perkins said he wouldn’t back it over the support package for the hospitality sector, while Labour former minister Kevan Jones described the government’s response to Covid-19 as “arrogant” and “shambolic”.
The MPs who defied Sir Keir were overall a mixture of MPs from the north of England and those in the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group, while former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who now sits as an independent, also voted against the three-tier restrictions.
Summing up the debate health secretary Matt Hancock gave an emotional speech revealing his step-grandfather caught Covid-19 in Liverpool and died on November 18.
Fighting back tears he told MPs: “In my family, as in so many others, we’ve lost a loving husband, a father, a grandfather to this awful disease.
“So from the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you to everyone in Liverpool for getting this awful virus under control.
“It’s down by four-fifths in Liverpool, that’s what we can do if we work together in a spirit of common humanity.
“We’ve got to beat this, we’ve got to beat it together.”
The minister finished by saying another nationwide lockdown across England “would be the only alternative” to the government’s proposed tiers, telling MPs: ”By voting for this motion you are supporting all these people and the public who want to see us act together.”
Following the vote Mr Harper said in a statement: “We very much regret that in a moment of national crisis so many of us felt forced to vote against the measures that the government was proposing.
“The House of Commons has spoken and we hope that the government will take on board the comments we have been making on the need for better data and modelling, regional cost-benefit analysis and on trusting MPs with the information they need to make such important decisions on behalf of their constituents.
“We must find a way to break the transmission of the disease, recapture the public’s support and confidence, end this devastating cycle of repeated restrictions and start living in a sustainable way until an effective and safe vaccine is successfully rolled out across the population.”
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