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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference in London on Saturday. Photo: AP

Coronavirus: Britain’s Boris Johnson defends lockdown as European leaders face resistance

  • Nigel Farage rebrands his Brexit Party as Reform UK, seeking to harness popular anger against new restrictions
  • France, Germany, Italy, Britain, the Netherlands and other countries have announced second lockdowns or stricter curbs as infections surge

A wave of coronavirus lockdowns and curbs has stirred resistance across Europe, with the right-wing British politician who helped force an EU referendum harnessing popular anger at a new lockdown by recasting his Brexit Party under a new banner.

Britain, which has the highest official death toll in Europe from Covid-19, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day and scientists have warned the “worst-case” scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended a second lockdown in England from critics who said it was either unnecessary or too late, arguing now was the time to prevent a “medical and moral disaster”.

“We are fighting a disease … When the data changes of course we must change course too,” he told parliament.

British politician Nigel Farage speaks at a rally for US President Donald Trump in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday. Photo: EPA-EFE

Cast by his supporters as the godfather of the movement to quit the European Union, Brexit Party founder Nigel Farage said Johnson had terrified Britons into submission with a second lockdown.

“The single most pressing issue is the government’s woeful response to coronavirus,” Farage and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice said in a joint article in The Daily Telegraph, announcing his Reform UK party.

Instead of a lockdown, Farage proposed targeting those most at risk and said people should not be criminalised for trying to live normal lives such as meeting family for Christmas.

WHO chief in quarantine as global death toll hits 1.2 million

France, Germany, Italy, Britain, the Netherlands and other countries have announced second lockdowns or strict new curbs as infections surge.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said now was the time for world leaders to act.

“This is another critical moment for action,” Tedros said. “Another critical moment for leaders to step up. And another critical moment for people to come together for a common purpose. Seize the opportunity, it’s not too late.”

Tedros was addressing a WHO news briefing in Geneva from self-isolation at home after announcing on Twitter that he had been in contact with a person infected with Covid-19.

Small shopkeepers in France have complained about being forced to close while supermarkets are allowed to sell “non-essential goods” such as shoes, clothes, beauty products and flowers because they also sell food.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday French supermarkets would face the same limits on selling non-essential goods but shop owners were not allowed to challenge the lockdown, in place until at least December 1.

Brazilians protest against Chinese vaccine, mandatory immunisation

“I am not optimistic that in just four weeks we will lower the number of new cases to the level announced by the president (5,000 new cases per day),” said epidemiologist Dominique Castigliola, director of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

“We will need more time. I don’t think we’ll be able to hold big family meals at Christmas. That seems very unlikely to me.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel said there would be no big New Year parties in Germany, but families should be able to get together for Christmas.

“Throughout the winter months, we will have to limit private contacts,” she told a news conference. “The light at the end of the tunnel is still quite a long way off.”

A customer picks up a magazine at a supermarket in Gex, eastern France, on Monday. Photo: AP

Police in the Spanish capital, Madrid, on Sunday raided 81 illegal parties, 18 drinking sessions known in Spain as “botellones”, and 10 bars which broke Covid-19 curbs.

Protests flared against new restrictions across Italy last week, with violence reported in Milan and Turin. Italy will tighten restrictions but is holding back from a lockdown, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday.

Italy’s daily tally of infections has increased 10-fold over the last month.

“The fact that Italy is in the same situation as other countries in Europe is no comfort to me,” virologist Andrea Crisanti said. “We had five months to strengthen our surveillance, tracking and prevention systems and instead we are heading towards a new lockdown.”

More than 46.7 million people have been infected globally and over 1.2 million have died from the respiratory disease, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.


Global coronavirus cases pass 40 million mark as infection rates rebound in the US and Europe

Global coronavirus cases pass 40 million mark as infection rates rebound in the US and Europe

The United States, which holds a presidential election on Tuesday, leads the world with more than 9 million cases and 230,700 deaths.

World shares recovered from one-month lows as strengthening factory data in China and Europe offset news of lockdowns, while investors prepared for more volatility arising from the US election.

US President Donald Trump has continually downplayed the virus, mocking Democratic challenger Joe Biden for wearing a mask and social distancing at campaign rallies, a tactic which enlivens his base supporters but infuriates his opponents.

Trump has also ridiculed his top coronavirus task force adviser, Anthony Fauci, who has contradicted Trump’s assertions that the US fight against the virus is “rounding the turn”.

The United States reported 67,862 new cases on Sunday, the highest number it has reported on the last day of any week.