New strain of virus dims Christmas lights in UK

2020-12-21 12:08:35

People wearing Christmas hats walk on Kings Road as the British government imposes a stricter tiered set of restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Chelsea, London, Britain, December 20, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] LONDON-Millions of people in England and Italy will celebrate Christmas under tough new coronavirus restrictions as Europe battles a winter surge including a more infectious new strain. Europe has become the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic broke out, killing more than 1.6 million worldwide and pitching the global economy into turmoil. In England, where a lockdown-weary population had been looking forward to a temporary five-day relaxation of virus restrictions over the festive period, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instead announced a new stay-at-home order for London and southeast England, an area in which about a third of the country's population lives. The move follows alarm at the speed at which the virus was spreading and a new strain that Johnson said was "up to 70 percent more transmissible". "It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," he said in a televised briefing on Saturday. "Alas, when the facts change, you have to change your approach." Residents in the affected areas will have to go into lockdown at least until Dec 30, Johnson said, abandoning earlier plans that would have allowed up to three households to mix. Hours later the Netherlands banned all passenger flights from Britain after finding the first case of the new, more infectious virus strain circulating in the UK. The ban came into effect at 5 am local time on Sunday and will be in force until Jan 1. The Netherlands is under a five-week lockdown until mid-January with schools and all nonessential shops closed to slow a surge in the virus. Fresh restrictions Italy also announced new restrictions, until Jan 6, that include limits on people leaving their homes more than once a day, closing nonessential shops, bars and restaurants and curbs on regional travel. A huge vaccination campaign is expected to begin on the continent after Christmas following the United States and Britain, which have begun giving people an approved Pfizer-BioNTech shot. Slovakia's Prime Minister Igor Matovic became the latest prominent figure to test positive for COVID-19 a week after attending a European Union summit in Brussels. It is believed French President Emmanuel Macron also caught the virus at the summit. His diagnosis on Thursday led to a slew of European leaders and French officials rushing into self-isolation. Macron's condition was stable, the French presidency said on Saturday. The day before, the French president said in a live video on Twitter that he was doing fine but was working at a slower pace. In Thailand, authorities will test more than 10,000 people for coronavirus after an outbreak linked to its biggest seafood market, officials said on Sunday. Nearly 700 new infections have been linked to Mahachai market and port since a 67-year-old female prawn seller tested positive on Thursday. Myanmar workers account for most of the cases. In Australia, a cluster of cases in Sydney grew to 38, with residents ordered to stay home from late Saturday other than for essential reasons. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a COVID-19 vaccine jab on Saturday, kicking off a national rollout over the coming days. The country set new coronavirus rules including a requirement for residents returning to the country from Sunday to self-isolate.