Tuesday, July 27, 2021

international

Anger and backlash in Britain as government confirms four more weeks of coronavirus restrictions


LONDON - Anger bubbled over in Britain in the wake of Prime Minister Boris Johnson decision to delay Englands final stage of coronavirus restriction rollbacks, in the face of rising cases and the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.

The news dominated tabloid headlines. Tuesday's Daily Mail front page branded the government's decision a "bitter blow to millions," while the Sun asked, "Will we ever be free?"

Footage emerged of prominent BBC journalist Nick Watt being chased and verbally abused at an anti-shutdown protest outside Downing Street just hours before Johnson spoke on Monday. The group surrounded him, yelling "traitor" and "shame on you" into his face as he ran toward police in an effort to seek safety. Some demonstrators accused the BBC of "lying" about the legality of lockdown measures.

The video, which was circulated widely on Twitter, highlighted the distrust and divisions that remain over rules and restrictions sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, and the risks faced by reporters and front line workers.

"Disgraceful to see the hounding of Nick Watt doing his job," Johnson tweeted following the incident.

"This behavior is completely unacceptable. All journalists should be able to carry out their work without intimidation or impediment," a BBC spokesperson said in response to the video.

Human rights campaigner Rebecca Vincent referred to the scene as "appalling" and called on Britain to "do better."

"This isn't protest; it's harassment & possibly assault (given Covid risk). Journalists must be able to do their jobs safely," she tweeted.

Anti-shutdown protesters marching through the city ahead of Johnson's briefing on Monday held signs that read "Freedom is not negotiable" and "Open the UK for business now," while the opposition Labour Party blamed "incompetence" and "slow decision-making" from the conservative government for the delay.

Although the government acknowledged that people would probably be frustrated by the decision, Johnson expressed hope that pushing the deadline to ease all restrictions back by an additional four weeks would allow millions more people to receive their second dose of vaccine before people attempt to resume life as normal.

Critics say Johnson should have added India, where the delta variant was first identified, to the official red travel list earlier and implemented more-stringent border-control measures. India was not added to the red list until April 23.

"Our borders were as secure as a sieve," Labour lawmaker Jonathan Ashworth said on Monday, noting that at least 20,000 people had entered the country from India during that time. "The prime minister's complacency allowed this variant to reach our shores."

Others expressed concern that the new July date for the lifting of restrictions - widely nicknamed freedom day - would again be changed.

Speaking to "BBC Breakfast" on Tuesday, Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, denied that Johnson would ever "put the health of the country at risk" and said that only a "bizarre and unprecedented" event could prevent the new date of July 19 from changing.

At least 128,000 people in Britain have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Published : June 16, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Jennifer Hassan