UK Accused Of Implementing Lockdowns On The Sly Amid Variant Surge

Boris Johnson

LONDON (AP) — The British government faced accusations Tuesday that it was reintroducing local lockdowns on the sly after it published new guidelines for eight areas of England that it says are hot spots for the coronavirus variant first identified in India.

Lawmakers and local public health officials expressed shock that they hadn’t been made aware of the changes to the guidelines to travel and social interaction that the Conservative government published online last Friday. They also said the guidelines weren’t mandatory and that the mixed messaging could undermine efforts to keep a lid on the virus by creating unnecessary confusion.

In last week’s updated guidance, the government recommended that people within eight localities, including Hounslow in west London, the city of Leicester and the northwest towns of Blackburn and Bolton, shouldn’t meet up indoors or travel outside their areas unless it is for an essential matter, such as going to work.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused the government of behaving in an “utterly shameful” fashion by not informing people in areas affected.

“Local lockdowns are the wrong approach for both public health and local economies,” he said.

In response, the government says it was just putting on the record the guidance that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has presented in the past couple of weeks during the spread of the so-called Indian variant, which critics say was seeded by a too-lax border policy.

“We want the whole country to move out of these restrictions together and we’re trusting people to be responsible and act with caution and common sense as they have done throughout the pandemic,” vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told lawmakers.

He insisted that the onus was on personal responsibility and that the government is still intending to take a national approach to lifting restrictions.

In a joint statement, the directors of public health in the eight areas affected said government officials confirmed there are “no local lockdowns” and that everyone is working together to boost testing, vaccinations and to support those people who have to go into quarantine.

The government’s strategy over the past couple of months of lockdown easing has been to lift restrictions on a national basis, though it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of local measures if needed.

Restrictions across England — and the rest of the U.K. — have been lifted over the past few weeks as the number of coronavirus infections has fallen sharply in the wake of a strict lockdown and the rapid rollout of vaccines. Among many changes, the most recent easing has seen pubs and restaurants reopen to customers indoors and the number of people allowed to meet up outdoors increased to 30.

The next easing is planned for June 21 and is intended to involve the lifting of all social restrictions. However, Johnson has warned that it could be pushed back if the new variant spreads widely. A decision on that date is set to be announced on June 14.

Though new cases in the U.K. remain low at around 2,500 a day, against nearly 70,000 at one point in January during the peak of the second wave, they have been inching up slightly in recent weeks.

That’s raised concerns that the so-called Indian variant, which is thought to be more transmissible, is taking off at a time when restrictions have been eased and many younger people have yet to receive a dose of vaccine.

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New Zealand Passes Bereavement Leave For Pregnancy Loss And Stillbirth


New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation that would entitle mothers and their partners to bereavement leave following a pregnancy loss or stillbirth.

The Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage Bill will give a couple three paid days off work to grieve and recover from a pregnancy loss.

“The Bill will give women and their partners time to come to terms with their loss without having to tap into sick leave. Because their grief is not a sickness, it is a loss,” said the bill’s sponsor, Ginny Anderson, a member of the Labour Party led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

Anderson told HuffPost that she’d hoped also to reduce stigma around the subject, noting that women who experience miscarriage often haven’t been able to share the news of their pregnancy, let alone the subsequent struggle to cope with the loss.

“People still are afraid to talk about it,” she said. “Particularly in that first trimester of pregnancy… There might be a whole range of reasons, but that’s kind of like an unspoken rule, you don’t talk about your pregnancy until three months.”

She said the bill’s passage showed that New Zealand was once again leading the way for progressive and compassionate legislation, becoming the second country in the world to provide leave for pregnancy loss and stillbirth.

The law would also apply to parents planning to have a child through adoption or surrogacy.

Anderson, who introduced the bill in 2019, said she hopes the legislation will promote openness around the subject of pregnancy loss, which is estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 5 pregnancies

The bereavement policy does not extend to women who have had abortions.

When the bill was first considered, abortion was still in New Zealand’s Crimes Act.

Anderson said she fully supports establishing similar rights for women who have had an abortion but didn’t want the miscarriage issue to be sidelined by an abortion debate.

New Zealand is not the first country to pass this type of policy, although it appears it will have the most wide-ranging effect.

In India, women are entitled to six weeks’ leave after a pregnancy loss. However, with the majority of employees participating in informal work, a very small percentage of the population is able to access it.

Other countries have policies on paid leave for stillbirths but not for miscarriages. 

Women in the U.K. who have a stillbirth after the 24th week of pregnancy are entitled to parental leave and pay. But a miscarriage before this date does not qualify.

In the U.S., there is considerable variation by state and by company. In some cases, women who suffer a pregnancy loss are entitled to time off but must use sick days or take unpaid leave. Some organizations are taking it a step further: Reddit, for example, gives 8½ paid weeks to employees who have pregnancy losses. 

This would apply for partners of women who’ve had a miscarriage, as well as employees whose surrogate birth or adoption fell through, and for someone who has had an abortion.

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New Zealand To Vote On Legalizing Marijuana And Euthanasia


AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealanders are poised to decide on two landmark social issues during an election Saturday: whether to legalize recreational marijuana and whether to legalize euthanasia.

A “yes” vote on both referendums would arguably make the nation of 5 million one of the more liberal countries in the world. Polls indicate the euthanasia referendum is likely to pass while the result of the marijuana measure remains uncertain.

The two referendums are being held at the same time as people cast votes for lawmakers and political parties. As a result, the referendums have been somewhat overshadowed both by the political campaigns and this year’s coronavirus outbreak.

In the political race, popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears set to win a second term in office, with her liberal Labour Party polling far ahead of the conservative National Party led by Judith Collins.

The euthanasia measure, which would also allow assisted suicide, would apply to people who have terminal illnesses, are likely to die within six months, and are enduring “unbearable” suffering.

Countries that allow some form of euthanasia include The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium and Colombia.

The marijuana measure would allow people to buy up to 14 grams (0.5 ounce) a day and grow two plants. Other countries that have legalized recreational marijuana include Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Georgia plus a number of U.S. states.

Lara Greaves, a lecturer in New Zealand politics at the University of Auckland, said she thinks the marijuana referendum is destined to fail.

“I think the problem is that we would be going from criminalization, and a bit of medicinal use, to full-on recreational use,” she said. “Probably what needed to happen to get the public on board was to have a phase of decriminalization.”

She said a large turnout of younger voters would be necessary for the measure to have any hope of passing but that was far from certain.

Another factor is that Ardern has declined to say how she intends to vote, saying she wants to leave it for people to decide. Greaves said that made a big difference, as people tend to follow their leaders. The prime minister did admit during the campaign to smoking marijuana when she was younger.

One vocal proponent of the marijuana referendum has been former Prime Minister Helen Clark. A position paper from her foundation argues that indigenous Maori have faced disproportionate and excessive punishment from the legal system when caught with the drug.

“Cannabis use is a reality in New Zealand, and the results of our current policy approach damage our health, worsen social equity, and drive crime,” Clark’s foundation said.

Arguing against the referendum is a number of community and religious groups who have formed the “Say Nope to Dope” campaign. They say today’s marijuana is strong, addictive and harmful, and that keeping it illegal deters people from using it.

If the euthanasia referendum is approved, it would become law, whereas if the marijuana referendum is approved, it would still require lawmakers to pass matching legislation. The results from both referendums will be announced Oct. 30.

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New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Roasts COVID-19 Denier At Campaign Rally


New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters swiftly shut down a man asking him whether COVID-19 was a real threat during a campaign event in Tauranga on Tuesday. 

The questioner began making a lengthy speech related to COVID-19 during a New Zealand First rally organized by Peters, who is the head of the political party and acts as deputy prime minister via a coalition government with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party.

“Where’s your evidence that there is a virus that causes the disease?” the man asked after Peters told him to get to the point.

“We’ve got someone who obviously got an education in America,” Peters said. “220,000 people have died in the United States. There are 8 million cases today. We’ve got 79,000 cases probably today in India, and here is somebody who gets up and says, ‘The Earth is flat.’ Sorry, sunshine, wrong place.”

When the man attempted to respond, Peters told him to be silent.

“Quiet, we have manners at our meetings as well,” the deputy prime minister said.

Aside from the questioner’s North American accent, there is no indication that they received their education in America. According to local media, the man had been questioning New Zealand First’s vote for the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act, which was legislation passed in May outlining a framework for local politicians and law enforcement to combat the coronavirus over the next two years.

The act has received criticism for restricting civil liberties, including enabling police to potentially enter premises without a warrant in order to ensure that lockdown restrictions are being followed.

As of Tuesday, New Zealand has faced a total of 1,872 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases. The United States, in contrast, has had over 7.7 million cases.

Watch the entire interaction, beginning at the 52:24 mark, in the livestream below.

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