Social Distancing May Be Scrapped In June
Social distancing rules are to be scrapped from 21st June, the Times has reported. According to the newspaper, plans to drop the “one metre-plus” rule will allow restaurants, pubs, theatres and cinemas in England to reopen fully from the end of next month. However, certain measures are expected to remain in place at some venues, such as the use of face masks, one-way systems and screens.
During a campaign visit in Hartlepool on Monday, Boris Johnson said there was a “good chance” the one-metre plus rule would be scrapped from 21st June as set out in the government’s roadmap. “We can't say it categorically yet,” he added. “[But] that's what it feels like to me right now.” The next step in lockdown easing is due to go ahead from 17th May, with six people or two households allowed to mix indoors and pubs and hospitality able to serve customers inside.
Meanwhile, lockdown rules were eased further in Wales on Monday. Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools have reopened, and indoor fitness classes and children’s activities have resumed. Two households can also form a bubble to meet indoors. The next review of virus rules is due to be held by 13th May, a week after the Welsh parliamentary elections. Case rates in Wales currently stand at less than 15 per 100,000 people – the lowest level of infection in the UK.
EU UNVEILS TRAVEL REOPENING PLANS
The European Commission has released new plans setting out how the bloc can reopen to foreign tourists. Under current rules, non-essential travel into the EU is only permitted from seven countries worldwide. However, under the proposed plans, anyone who has had both doses of an EU-approved vaccine will be allowed to travel in the bloc from the start of June. Those from countries with a "good epidemiological situation" will also be permitted. The plans include an “emergency brake” that would allow member states to rapidly limit travel in response to new Covid-19 variants or rising infection rates in countries outside the EU.
The EU is also planning to introduce Covid passports or 'digital green certificates', which will allow travellers to register their vaccination or testing status. Until this is launched, the European Commission said member states should accept certificates based on national law. According to Boris Johnson, there will be some “opening up” of foreign travel from 17th May. More details about when and how international travel from England will restart are expected later this week.
In a report published on Monday, the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus urged the government to “discourage all international leisure travel” this year to prevent new virus variants from being brought back into the UK by holidaymakers. The cross-party group of 60 MPs described airport arrivals halls as potential “breeding grounds” for the virus and recommended that limits on travel continue beyond 17th May.
The Premier League sets out the first stage of its official response to the failed European Super League (ESL). Six English clubs were involved in the plans for the breakaway league. In a statement on Monday, the Premier League said new rules would be developed to protect both football and open competition. It also insisted that clubs would be “held accountable” for their involvement in the ESL, after the proposed competition collapsed amid opposition from fans, pundits and players.
A new 'Owners’ Charter' will be drawn up to ensure club owners are committed “to the core principles of the Premier League”. The statement also pledged to listen to the concerns of fans – although it urged them to remain peaceful in their opposition following violence at Manchester United’s stadium on Sunday. The club’s match against Liverpool was called off on safety grounds after protesters broke into Old Trafford and clashed with police, leaving two officers requiring medical treatment.
In other news
QUEEN MARKS NORTHERN IRISH CENTENARY
The Queen has described continued peace in Northern Ireland as a “credit to its people”. In a message marking the country’s centenary on Monday, the monarch described the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the Government of Ireland Act as a reminder “of our complex history” and “an opportunity to reflect on our togetherness”.
However, the Queen warned that reconciliation and mutual understanding in Northern Ireland “cannot be taken for granted” and would require an ongoing commitment to the peace process. While the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of large-scale celebrations, the centenary will still be marked with an inter-denominational church service, a special post-mark and the planting of a tree at every school.
UK AND IRAN DISCUSS £400M DEBT
Foreign office minister James Cleverly has confirmed the UK and Iran are in talks over a £400m debt. The UK owes the money to Iran after failing to deliver on a military contract agreed with the country in the 1970s. The family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian currently imprisoned in Iran, say they believe she is being held as leverage for the debt’s repayment.
Speaking on Monday, Cleverly confirmed talks between the two nations were ongoing but rejected any link to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case as “completely inappropriate”, insisting: “They are separate issues.” In a separate interview, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the 42-year-old was being used by Tehran in a “cat-and-mouse game” for diplomatic leverage.
CORNWALL PROPERTY MARKET ‘GONE CRAZY’
Estate agents working in Cornwall say the county’s property market has gone “completely crazy” over the past six months. According to analysis by Rightmove, the number of people looking to buy homes in Cornwall has jumped by 140%, with more than 15m people searching for properties in the county in the first quarter of 2021. The property website said asking prices had rocketed 11% over the past year – more than double the 5.1% average rise recorded across Britain.
Deborah Plowright from CAM Residential Lettings said the extension of the stamp duty holiday to June had created “a stampede” of demand in Cornwall. “There's less and less properties on the market to rent and more people looking,” she said.
NHS FACES EXODUS OF BURNT-OUT STAFF
Thousands of doctors plan to leave the NHS in the coming year after suffering exhaustion and burnout during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a survey of 5,521 doctors by the British Medical Association (BMA), half plan to reduce their working hours, a third want to retire earlier and 21% want to leave the NHS for a different career. When asked what factors had influenced their plans, 45% of doctors mentioned workload, 43% cited their personal wellbeing and 29% said pay.
BMA leader Dr Chaand Nagpaul described the findings as “deeply worrying” and said experienced medics were needed now more than ever to help the UK recover from the coronavirus health crisis.
GERMAN POLICE BUST ABUSE SITE
One of the world’s largest online platforms for child abuse images has been busted by German police. Prosecutors in Frankfurt said three suspects were arrested in Germany in connection with the “Boystown” darknet site. Another suspect, also German, was arrested in Paraguay.
According to investigators, more than 400,000 paedophiles are believed to have used the darknet site to exchange and view child abuse images of the “most severe” kind. German investigators worked in co-operation with Europol and police in the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, the US and Canada to trace the platform’s administrators and take down the site.
The finale of the sixth series of Line of Duty landed record ratings, according to overnight viewing figures. An average of 12.8m people tuned in to watch the final episode of the BBC show, making it the most-watched episode of any drama, excluding soaps, since records began in 2002. The highly anticipated instalment – in which the identity of criminal mastermind 'H' was revealed – commanded a 56.2% share of the UK’s television audience on Sunday night.