UK PM Johnson stands by senior adviser Cummings over lockdown drive

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday he was standing by senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who is under pressure to resign over a journey he made during the coronavirus lockdown.

“I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally,” Johnson told a news conference.

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PRESS DIGEST- Financial Times – May 22

May 22 (Reuters) – The following are the top stories in the Financial Times. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

Headlines

– Atlantia seeks €1bn credit line for toll road unit in Genoa bridge disaster on.ft.com/3bMyYFi

– Clarks cuts 900 jobs as it strengthens digital push on.ft.com/2yonGt7

– Oxfam makes deep cuts as charities reel from effects of virus on.ft.com/36lgp9V

Overview

– Italian infrastructure company Atlantia SPA is in talks to obtain a 1.25 billion euro ($1.37 billion) state-backed credit line for it’s toll road arm Autostrade per l’Italia that was involved in the Genoa bridge disaster.

– Clarks, the British shoemaker and retailer, said it would cut 900 jobs following a strategy review to cut costs, moving to more digital operations and trimming down it’s UK stores.

– Oxfam International will close operations in 18 countries and lay off 1,450 staff due to the financial effects to the coronavirus outbreak. ($1 = 0.9134 euros) (Compiled by Bengaluru newsroom)

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UK PM Johnson orders for plans to end reliance on Chinese imports: The Times

(Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus outbreak, The Times newspaper reported on Friday bit.ly/2AIukv1.

The plans, which have been code named ‘Project Defend’, include identifying Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments as part of a broader new approach to national security, the newspaper reported, adding that the efforts are being led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Two working groups have been set up as part of the project, according to the report, with one source telling The Times that the aim was to diversify supply lines to no longer depend on individual countries for non-food essentials.

Johnson told lawmakers he would take steps to protect Britain’s technological base, with the government review also expected to include personal protective equipment and drugs, the report added.

The development comes as Beijing has been tackling mounting international criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China before spreading to the rest of the world.

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How photographer captured baby image amid coronavirus lockdown

BURNLEY, England (Reuters) – For Reuters photographer Hannah McKay, a recent trip to take pictures at a hospital in northern England required the kind of planning more typical of a foreign assignment.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought huge changes to the way journalists work the world over, with safety a priority, access organised long in advance, travel kept to a minimum and hotels and public transport largely out of bounds.

So when London-based McKay had the opportunity to travel north to cover medical workers in the cities of Blackburn and Burnley, careful planning was essential.

She divided the six-hour journey into two parts, sleeping in a tent in her parents’ garden in Coventry before setting off the next morning. McKay and her parents found the experience strange.

“I couldn’t go in the front door, I couldn’t go in the house and we couldn’t hug,” she recalled.

Her mother cooked a curry for dinner and her parents sat on a bench in the garden while they ate, respecting social distancing rules.

After photographing medics on the frontline at the Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital, she was offered the use of one of dozens of motorhomes in the hospital car park where doctors and nurses have been staying to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

That allowed McKay, 32, to carry on working the next day, this time in a maternity ward at Burnley General Hospital.

It was there that she took a photograph of a nurse passing a newborn baby to its mother that featured prominently in British newspapers and on online news sites.

“To get a picture I was pleased with was great,” McKay said. “I never expected it would get the kind of reaction it did.”

‘MY OLYMPICS’

Before the pandemic struck, McKay had a packed summer of work ahead of her, including coverage of the Euros soccer tournament, the Wimbledon tennis championship and the Tokyo Olympics.

With all of those events off, she has been working full time in London.

“This job felt like it was my Olympics; it was the first time I had left London for ages,” she said of her trip last week. “I was so happy to be doing something normal but different.”

In Blackburn, McKay spent the day visiting as many hospital departments as possible, taking about 3,000 photographs in all.

Much of the time was spent changing in and out of protective clothing, under the close surveillance of hospital staff.

“I must have put on 20 masks throughout the day,” she said.

The following day, in the nearby city of Burnley, she met a mother whose baby Theo, who was born prematurely, was in an incubator.

Her picture captured the moment when the tiny infant, in the hands of a nurse, stretched out its limbs while the mother prepared to take him.

The mother found McKay on Instagram and said the photograph meant that friends and family, who were unable to visit her in hospital because of the coronavirus, could now see how small Theo was.

“I’m going to send a copy to her for Theo’s memory box,” McKay said.

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UK health official expects rapid rollout of Roche antibody test

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will begin using an antibody test for COVID-19 in coming days, focusing its use on health workers and carers, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said on Thursday.

“I anticipate that it will be rapidly rolled out in the days and weeks to come,” he said referring to a test produced by Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG.

“I also anticipate that the focus will be on the National Health Service and on carers in the first instance.”

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UK royals pay tribute to nurses across the world

LONDON (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth and other senior members of Britain’s royal family joined together on Tuesday to thank nurses around the world for their efforts in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In calls to mark International Nurses’ Day, the royals posted videos and chatted to healthcare workers from Australia and India to Africa and the Caribbean.

“This is rather an important day,” the 94-year-old queen told Professor Kathleen McCourt, President of the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation, saying nurses have “obviously had a very important part to play recently”.

Royal commentators said it was the first time during her 68-year reign that audio of a telephone call involving the queen had ever been released.

Buckingham Palace said the royals had spoken to nurses and healthcare workers in Britain, Australia, India, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Bahamas, Cyprus, and Tanzania.

“You’re a huge inspiration to everybody. A huge thank you from us all here,” said Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, during one of seven calls she made with Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, wife of the queen’s youngest son Prince Edward.

Other royals who took part included heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the queen’s daughter Princess Anne and the queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra.

“From the bottom of my heart thank you for everything you’re doing,” said Kate’s husband Prince William in a call to staff at a hospital in London. “I hope you know how appreciative everyone is of what you’re all doing.”

On Monday night, a giant image of Florence Nightingale was projected onto the buildings of Guys and St Thomas’ hospitals in central London to mark 200 years since her birth and her legacy to modern nursing.

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Sitting ducks: UK charity sees surge in calls from stalking victims

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – British charities for victims of stalking have reported a surge in calls during the coronavirus lockdown, with women isolated at home saying they feel like “sitting ducks”.

Paladin, a national anti-stalking service, said on Monday that requests for help jumped 40% since the lockdown was imposed on March 23.

Campaigners said police and the judiciary did not take “the invidious crime” seriously enough even though research showed stalking was a factor in more than 90% of domestic homicides.

“Stalking is premeditated and is extremely dangerous behaviour,” said Rachel Horman, chairwoman of Paladin.

She said most victims were reporting being stalked via social media, messaging apps and email, but physical stalking was still happening despite the lockdown.

Some women had even found their stalkers waiting for them when they dropped off shopping for relatives.

“Their stalker is watching the house and knows exactly where they are now much more than they did in the past, and that’s making them feel a lot more anxious,” said Horman, a solicitor who specialises in domestic violence and stalking cases.

“I’ve had several clients say to me they feel like sitting ducks.”

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs a national anti-stalking helpline, says nearly 1.5 million people are victims of stalking each year in England and Wales.

The trust could not be contacted, but calls to the helpline are reported to have increased.

Katy Bourne, chairwoman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which advises Britain’s police forces, described lockdown as a “stalker’s paradise”.

“Stalkers normally would have to go to work, but now with everyone in lockdown they have 24 hours a day to obsess over their victims,” said Bourne.

“If they went into lockdown not knowing much about social media, and how to stalk across it, you can bet your life they’ve learned an awful lot since they’ve been indoors.”

Bourne, herself a victim of stalking, said referrals to a stalking support group in the south of England were up 26% since lockdown.

She said many victims suffer post traumatic stress disorder and that by the time someone asks for help they had on average already suffered 100 incidents.

“I want police forces to absolutely make this a priority because there are many thousands of victims out there who are suffering in silence,” Bourne said.

“It’s pretty evil … It needs to be called out.”

Horman said there was growing support for a national register of stalkers and domestic abusers similar to the sex offenders register.

“They are serial offenders. If they stop abusing one person they don’t just give up, they will then focus on somebody else and it goes on and on,” she said. “It makes absolute sense to monitor them.”

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Pandemic could rip 105 billion pound hole in small company finances

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s smaller companies could be saddled with up to 105 billion pounds ($129 billion) in “unsustainable” debt by March next year that will need recapitalising, a financial services body told the Bank of England on Monday.

TheCityUK, which promotes Britain’s financial services sector, said in a letter to BoE Governor Andrew Bailey that businesses will require full-scale recapitalisation to alleviate the hit to employment from the pandemic, which is set to trigger the UK’s worst economic downturn in 300 years.

TheCityUK is assessing the likely demand for fresh capital, how much of it the private sector could provide, and explore ways with government and the BoE to plug any shortfall.

The main focus is on unlisted small and medium sized firms that all together employ 16 million people and generate turnover of over 2 trillion pounds. Many have had to close during a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus and even when they reopen demand is still expected to be depressed by the economic impact of the virus.

A preliminary analysis showed that the level of unsustainable debt in the sector could be between 90 billion pounds and 105 billion pounds by March 2021, TheCityUK said.

“Our preliminary work suggests our main focus should be forbearance and restructuring and the recapitalisation of companies using equity or equity-like instruments,” it said.

Some 10 billion to 20 billion pounds of the unsustainable debt could be in the form of government-backed loans now being provided to SMEs, TheCityUK said, in an indication of size of stakes that could potentially end up in public hands.

TheCityUK said it will set out options in June for further discussion with the government and the central bank.

“We hope our work will provide a firm foundation and a transparent evidence base to support rapid action if and where needed,” it said.

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Queen tells Britain 'never give up' in tribute to WW2 generation

LONDON (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth led tributes to veterans of World War Two recalling the “never give up, never despair” message of Victory in Europe Day 75 years ago as the coronavirus damped commemorations for the end of the war on the continent.

In a rare televised address that brought together the themes of wartime and the coronavirus, the 94-year-old monarch said those who had served during the conflict with Nazi Germany would admire how their descendants were coping with the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

“When I look at our country today and see what we are willing to do to protect and support one another, I say with pride, that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire,” she said.

On a day that should have been filled with parades and street parties, the national commemorations to herald the day when Allied forces accepted Germany’s unconditional surrender were scaled back after social gatherings were curbed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But flags and banners still fluttered across Britain, and people stuck at home due to the lockdown enjoyed a day of special television and radio programmes.

Britain paid tribute to the war generation with flypasts, a two-minute silence, and the broadcast of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech to mark the anniversary of victory in Europe.

In a short ceremony that had been kept secret to avert the possibility of any crowds gathering, Prince Charles wearing a kilt laid a wreath at the war memorial outside his family’s Balmoral estate in Scotland.

Households across Britain evoked the spirit of the 1940s, some dressing in period costume and hosting tea parties despite the coronavirus lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked the “heroism of countless ordinary people” in his tribute to the millions of Britons who fought and lived through the war.

“Today we must celebrate their achievement, and we remember their sacrifice,” Johnson said in a national address. “We are a free people because of everything our veterans did – we offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered.”

‘WE’LL MEET AGAIN’

There were commemorations too across the water in France, where President Emmanuel Macron held the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin invoked the wartime Allies’ cooperation in telegrams to U.S. President Donald Trump, with Britain’s Johnson and others suggesting they should rekindle such togetherness for today’s problems.

In Germany – where Nazism, the Holocaust and the devastation of war still shape identity and politics – Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid wreaths at Berlin’s Memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship.

The address by Britain’s queen came exactly 75 years after her father George VI gave a victory speech over the radio to the nation.

Elizabeth, a teenager when the war broke out, learned to drive military trucks and be a mechanic while serving in the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was in Buckingham Palace when it was bombed in September 1940.

Since becoming queen 68 years ago, this was only the sixth time that the queen had made a special broadcast other than in her annual Christmas Day message, but her VE Day speech was the second such address since the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, she invoked the spirit of World War Two, calling for the public to show the same resolve and echoing the words of the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn which became a symbol of hope for Britons during the conflict.

As part of Friday’s celebrations, after the queen’s address, Britons were encouraged to open their doors and join in a nationwide singalong of Lynn’s song.

The queen’s message to the nation spoke of how the outlook that seemed bleak at the start of the war may resonate with people today.

“The end distant, the outcome uncertain,” she said. “Never give up, never despair – that was the message of VE Day.”

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Tea and singing: Britain honours World War Two anniversary

LONDON (Reuters) – Britons stood in silence and Queen Elizabeth was to address the nation on Friday’s 75th anniversary of “Victory in Europe” Day, though the coronavirus dampened commemorations for the end of World War Two on the continent.

Along with millions around the nation, Prince Charles held a two-minute silence outside his family’s Balmoral estate, while military jets flew over the United Kingdom’s four capitals, and 1940s-style tea parties plus singalongs were planned in homes.

The original plans for extensive events to herald VE Day, when allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, were scaled back after the government banned social gatherings from March to curb the coronavirus.

A veterans’ procession and other events involving crowds were scrapped, but flags and banners still fluttered, and people stuck at home due to the lockdown enjoyed a day of special television and radio programmes. On the white cliffs of Dover, a lone piper played bagpipes as wartime Spitfire planes flew by.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked the “heroism of countless ordinary people” in his tribute to the millions of Britons who fought and lived through the war.

“Today we must celebrate their achievement, and we remember their sacrifice,” Johnson said in an address published on Twitter. “We are a free people because of everything our veterans did –  we offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered.”

‘WE’LL MEET AGAIN’

There were commemorations too across the water in France, where President Emmanuel Macron held the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin invoked the wartime allies’ cooperation in telegrams to U.S. President Donald Trump, Britain’s Johnson and others suggesting they should rekindle such togetherness for today’s problems.

In Germany, where Nazism, the Holocaust and the devastation of war still shape identity and politics, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid wreaths at Berlin’s Memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship.

That replaced a previously planned ceremony with foreign diplomats and young people, plus a range of events including an art installation documenting the last days of the war and tracing the path to democracy, which will now go online.

Britain’s 94-year-old queen’s address was to come exactly 75 years after her father George VI gave a victory speech over the radio to the nation.

Elizabeth, a teenager when the war broke out, learned to drive military trucks and be a mechanic while serving in the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was in Buckingham Palace when it was bombed in September 1940.

Since becoming queen 68 years ago, Elizabeth has rarely made broadcasts to the nation except her annual Christmas Day message, but her VE Day speech will be the third such address since the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, she invoked the spirit of World War Two, calling for the public to show the same resolve and echoing the words of the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn which became a symbol of hope for Britons during the conflict.

As part of Friday’s celebrations, after the queen’s address at 2000 GMT, Britons were being encouraged to open their doors and join in a nationwide singalong of Lynn’s song.

Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins was to give a solo performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, in the first concert behind closed doors in its 150-year history.

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