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No Brexit trade deal could cost reeling UK economy $25 billion next year

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The British economy has been pummeled by the pandemic. Now, with talks on a new trade deal with the European Union at risk of collapse, Johnson has to decide: Does he try to find common ground with Europe, or walk away?Britain already faces a tough 2021 as the country battles the twin shocks of coronavirus and Brexit. But failing to secure an agreement with the United Kingdom's biggest export market would amplify the pain. Walking away empty-handed — which Johnson threatened to do on Friday — would create disruptions to trade when the transition period ends later this year, shaving more than $25 billion off the UK economy in 2021 compared to a scenario where a limited free trade deal is agreed, according to a CNN Business analysis based on forecasts from Citi and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That would put the country even further behind on its efforts to recover from the historic shock triggered by the pandemic."The combination of Covid-19 and the exit from the EU single market makes the UK outlook exceptionally uncertain," Laurence Boone, chief economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said in a report this week. "Actions taken to address the pandemic and decisions made on future trading relationships will have a lasting impact on the United Kingdom's economic trajectory for years to come."

Little progress on deal

The clock is ticking for the United Kingdom and the European Union to come to terms, with Britain set to lose its favorable trading status with the bloc at the end of December.Meetings this week concluded without any major breakthroughs, and Johnson said Friday that the country should prepare for a trading relationship that resembles Australia's. Australia does not have a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union. Most trade is conducted under more basic World Trade Organization rules.Given that Brussels has "refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months," Johnson said, "now is the time for our businesses to get ready, and for hauliers to get ready, and for travelers to get ready" for a no-deal exit.Yet there may still be some hope for an agreement. Johnson stopped short of ruling out further talks, and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Friday that her team would head to London next week to intensify negotiations as previously planned.Fishing rights and the framework for resolving future disputes remain key sticking points for both sides, according to Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. "We don't think the deal will flounder on fish, but we do think the technical and political challenges it presents will be more difficult to overcome than many believe," Rahman said Thursday.Johnson had said that terms of the future trading arrangement needed to be hammered out by mid-October to give businesses enough time to plan for the outcome. That deadline has now come and gone.Rahman believes it's still in Johnson's best political interest to strike a deal, given the criticism of his management the Covid-19 crisis."As Johnson's government tears itself apart on coronavirus, the need for a political win, which only a deal can be, is greater than ever," he said.The United Kingdom has in recent days opted for a regional approach as its coronavirus cases spike, reimposing strict rules in Liverpool and barring people from different households from meeting indoors in London starting Saturday. That's led to criticism from both those worried about the impact on the economy, and those who believe dramatic national measures are necessary to keep the situation under control.

Businesses sound alarm

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Azerbaijan, Armenia Trade Accusations Over New Attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh

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Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other Saturday of new attacks, further indications that violence has escalated in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in violation of a Russian-brokered truce that took effect a week ago.

Authorities in Azerbaijan said an Armenian missile attack on the city of Ganja killed at least 13 people and wounded 50 others in early hours of Saturday while Armenia accused Azerbaijan of more shelling.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said that the cities of Ganja and Mingachevir were hit with missiles fired from two locations in Armenia.

According to official sources in Azerbaijan, Saturday’s missile attacks destroyed at least 20 residential buildings in Ganja, the country’s second-largest city.

The Armenian defense ministry denied carrying out the strikes and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to shell populated areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, including its largest city, Stepanakert.

The Armenian foreign ministry said three civilians were injured in a fire resulting from Azerbaijan’s attacks.

Armenia also accused Azerbaijan of flying drones over Armenian settlements, attacking military installations and damaging civilian infrastructure.

The ongoing fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted Sept. 27 and has killed hundreds of people, marking the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh since a 1994 cease-fire.

The predominantly ethnic Armenian territory declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking a war that claimed the lives of as many as 30,000 people before a 1994 cease-fire. However, that independence is not internationally recognized.

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Finger Pointed at Swiss Yodeling Concert as COVID Superspreader Event

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GENEVA – The coronavirus pandemic has not deterred the Swiss from sending yodels echoing across their mountain valleys, but a concert attended by 600 people is believed to have made one canton a European virus hot spot.

At the late September yodeling event in the rural Schwyz canton, people in the audience were asked to maintain social distancing, but mask-wearing was not required.

“We can’t do anything about what happened with this yodeling group. We found out nine days after the performances that several people from the group were infected,” event organizer Beat Hegner told RTS public television.

Now the pandemic has spread through the region, with 1,238 cases compared with just 500 in mid-September.

On Wednesday alone, 94 people tested positive, twice as many as the day before.

The overloaded cantonal hospital has asked people to begin wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.

‘Explosion’ in cases

“There’s an extremely high rate of positive tests. We’ve gone from 30% to 50%,” hospital chief Franziska Foellmi said.

“It’s time we reacted. The explosion in the number of cases in Schwyz is one of the worst in all of Europe,” chief doctor Reto Nueesch posted online.

Cantonal authorities have stepped up infection control measures, making mask-wearing compulsory at all public and private events with more than 50 people and in situations where distancing can’t be maintained.

But people can still go to the shops without covering their noses and mouths.

Switzerland isn’t the only country to practice yodeling, an age-old style of singing where the performer rapidly switches between registers.

It’s also practiced in Austria’s Tyrol region and in variant forms across the mountains of central Europe, from Poland to Romania.

Like archery, wrestling and the Alpine games, yodeling has been one of the building blocks of common identity between Switzerland’s culturally disparate regions since the 19th century.

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In Lithuania, COVID-19 is a key election issue – but not in the way you might think

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Five years ago, Lithuania’s Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) was an obscure political party that struggled to reach the 5% threshold to qualify for seats in parliament. In 2016 it turned its one seat in the Lithuanian Seimas into 51, and became the Baltic country’s new government.

For the LFGU, the victory was part of a populist wave that swept global politics in 2016. From the Brexit referendum to the election of Donald Trump, genuine anger with politics-as-usual saw voters back causes and individuals that – for better or for worse – went against the grain.

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“People were getting fed up with the traditional political parties [and] their futile bickering,” Tomas Tomilinas, an LFGU MP, told Euronews.

“They were searching for new faces, and we were certainly them.”

Four years on and the LFGU again faces an election in Lithuania on Sunday, this time as well-known faces and amidst the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

But the picture for the party is mixed. On the one hand, prior to COVID-19 it was struggling in the polls and analysts in Lithuania were predicting that voters would punish it come the October 11 election. On the other, the COVID-19 pandemic may just have rescued LFGU fortunes.

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The Lithuanian government recently launched a €2 billion financial package to help businesses bounce back from the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, while the European Commission earmarked €602 million for Lithuania in loans. Much of that cash has found its way into the pockets of voters, who are thankful to the government, and to the LFGU.

“Their support hovered in single digits before the strike of COVID-19. It has been a disaster for most, but a true blessing for the farmers,” said Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor of political science at Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius, referring to the LFGU.

Electoral success

For a long time, LFGU was looked down upon as a tiny regional party with a green, agricultural agenda. Its vociferous “no” campaign in the 2012 national plebiscite on building a new nuclear plant in the country – 62.6% voted against – did not translate into electoral success.

But by 2016, malaise had got hold of Lithuanian politics, dominated for decades by either the left-wing Social Democrats or the right-wing Homeland Union – Christian Democrats (HU-LCD).

A third party, the Lithuanian Liberal Movement, did have some electoral success but was devastated by the accusation – still in the country’s courts – that its leader took €106,000 in bribes in return for political influence in 2016. Other parties, including Electoral Action of Poles, represent a portion of Lithuanian voters, in this case, the Polish minority in the country.

In 2016, the LFGU vowed to upset the applecart, and since its victory has very much sung from the populist playbook. It has championed national identity, or ‘Lithuanianess’, and – like other right-wing parties in Europe, namely Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) – come out against LGBT rights in Lithuania, winning support with its conservative, rural and Christian base.

In the former campaign, it has had wins and losses. In 2018, the LGFU proposed that Lithuanian schoolchildren should have new uniforms adorned with national symbols including the country’s historical coat of arms. The plan, which coincided with the centenary of the declaration of the Lithuanian state in 1918, was ridiculed by opponents and promptly dropped.

Despite being, in name, a green party it has also shunned the rest of Europe’s green movement, opting out of the European Green Party (EGP) bloc in the European Parliament in Brussels due to its support for LGBT rights.

Asked about this decision, Tomilinas told Euronews: “We want a closer relationship with the Greens in Brussels, and we discussed the intention to have a formal membership to the European Green Party (EGP).”

“But first we need to put our house in order first. At the moment we still have different views and opinions between strategic actors in the party. We talk about integrating to the European family when we have yet to integrate properly our own.”

Critics say that the LFGU has little coherent political agenda, other than pandering to voters outside of the cities with both their political stance – nationalist, traditionalist and Christian – as with their policies, which include generous handouts to pensioners, a reduction of the cost for drugs bought in pharmacies and the establishment of a state bank

“They never had a clear programme, nor vision how to manage [the] state. But they’ve been playing the populist card from scratch – quite successfully,” said Vytautas Bruveris, chief correspondent and analyst at the daily Lietuvos Rytas.

“[Their policies] reverberate very well with swathes of Lithuania’s population.”

At the top of the LFGU political tree is Ramunas Karbauskis, the multi-millionaire owner of Agrokoncernas, one of the largest agricultural groups in Lithuania. As well as a business tycoon, Karbauskis is something of a celebrity, having written and produced a wildly popular TV series Naisių vasara, based on stories from the village where he was born.

As elsewhere in Europe – including Hungary and Poland – the rise of Lithuania’s populists has come alongside attacks on both the press and the judiciary, said Andzeij Puksto, associate professor at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city.

“Having met resistance from all over, LFGU has shown some authoritarian signs. Let’s not forget that LFGU attempted to curtail rights of the national broadcaster (LRT),” Puksto said.

“In mimicking Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice party, LFGU has hinted of changes in our judicial system. I am afraid that, with the new mandate in their hands, they can swerve to the realisation of their authoritarian tendencies.”

The impact of COVID-19 on the LFGU’s fortunes is not just in the ability to be able to hand out billions of euros in bailout money to voters before election day. Lauras Bielinis, a Lithuanian political scientist and a professor at Vytautas Magnus University, said that the pandemic has resulted in an “inertia” ahead of the election amongst voters that plays into the LFGU’s hands.

“The health crisis has messed up everything and those who are promising more now are in a better position ahead of the elections,” he said.

Members of the Lithuanian opposition, unsurprisingly, go even further.

Simonas Gentvilas, a Liberal member of the Lithuanian parliament, said that the LFGU has “soaked” voters in COVID-19 fallout money and is now set to reap the benefits.

“Be it the medics who received their lavish pecuniary bonuses in the autumn, or the pensioners, who received their €200 pay-outs in the autumn. Not coincidentally. For me, this is a typical political bribing,” he told Euronews.

Indeed, economically Lithuania has fared far better than many of its neighbours during the COVID-19 pandemic, with GDP contracting by just 3.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 year-on-year, less than previously expected and second only to Luxembourg in Europe. Business leaders, however, doubt that the LFGU can take credit for that.

“Many Lithuanian companies are producing niche-markets oriented production, which were less affected by the virus,” said Sigitas Besagirskas, president of the Vilnius Industry and Business Association.

Populists vs populists

There is a chance, say analysts, that the two major players prior to 2016 – the Social Democrats and the Conservatives could form an alliance after Sunday in order to bring down the LFGU government, but Dumbliauskas, at Mykolas Romeris University, said that the two rivals would have to “move mountains” in order to find enough common ground.

“The ideological divisions they have are just too stark to override. Importantly, at the end of the day, it is LFGU that would win from such a marriage,” he said.

Interestingly, the biggest challenge to the LFGU on Sunday — if no-one wins more than 50% of the vote on October 11, the two most popular parties will take part in a run-off election on October 25 — may not come from more established political parties or the opposition but from another upstart populist party, the Labour Party, despite its founder, multi-millionaire businessman and MEP Viktor Uspaskich, has been handed a four-year prison sentence for fraudulent bookkeeping in the party. A higher tier-court has exonerated him, however.

“I believe the party is the dark horse of the election,” Bruveris said.

“But I’d see nothing good from its win, as the party – like the farmers – have been populist since the very start.”

Every weekday at 1900 CEST, Uncovering Europe brings you a European story that goes beyond the headlines. Download the Euronews app to get an alert for this and other breaking news. It’s available on Apple and Android devices.

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Coronavirus: Masks made mandatory outdoors across Italy

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Italy has made it mandatory to wear face masks in outdoor spaces across the country in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

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Italians must also wear masks indoors everywhere except in private homes.

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Although Covid-19 cases are much lower in Italy than in many other European countries, there has been a steady rise in infections.

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Meanwhile, Germany reported a spike in its infection rate to more than 4,000 daily cases.

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Although this figure is lower than in many European countries, it is Germany’s highest number of cases in 24 hours since April. Testing has increased, however, so more cases are being recorded.

Germany has seen fewer than 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths so far, out of a population of 83 million. But new restrictions are being introduced, including a ban on people from high-risk regions staying in hotels in the rest of the country.

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What’s happening in Italy?

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said tougher measures were needed to avoid returning to an economically devastating lockdown in Italy.

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“From now on, masks and protective gear have to be brought with us when we leave our house and worn. We have to wear them all the time unless we are in a situation of continuous isolation,” he said.

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Masks must also be worn in shops, offices, on public transport, and in bars and restaurants when not seated at a table.

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The measures have already been put in place in some parts of Italy that have seen an increase in infections, such as Rome, but the latest announcement makes them nationwide.

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Italians were subject to some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world when the country became the first in Europe to be overwhelmed by the coronavirus earlier in the year.

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Although it has managed to keep the virus in check more successfully than many other European countries in recent months, cases in the last 24 hours have surged past the 3,000 mark for the first time since 24 April, registering 3,678 new infections, data from the health ministry shows.

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Italy also took action on Wednesday to stem the number of cases coming in from Europe, announcing compulsory testing for anyone travelling from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

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Elsewhere in Europe:

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  • The Czech Republic now has the highest number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days in the EU, overtaking Spain
  • Cases have also reached a record high in the Netherlands, with nearly 5,000 recorded in 24 hours
  • All pubs and restaurants across central Scotland – including in Glasgow and Edinburgh – are to be closed from Friday. England is considering similar measures in some regions
  • All bars and cafes in Belgium’s capital Brussels are closing for a month
  • In Paris, Covid-19 patients are taking up more than 40% of intensive care beds
  • Several other European countries – including Poland and Ukraine – have registered record daily infections

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Lithuania votes: Centre-right opposition edges towards win with coalition talks expected

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Opposition conservative party Homeland Union claimed victory on Monday in the first round of Lithuania’s general election.

Obtaining 23 seats in the country’s 141-seat parliament, the centre-right opposition appears on track to win the vote, defeating the ruling four-party coalition.

The Farmers and Greens Union, which forms the backbone of the Baltic nation’s current coalition government, finished second with 16 seats outright and many fewer candidates making it into the second round of voting, which is to be held on October 25.

Two liberal parties — the Freedom Party and the Liberal Movement — considered likely allies in a future centre-right coalition, claimed a total of 14 seats. The centre-left Labour party won nine seats and the Social Democrats got eight. Six parties will be represented in the Seimas parliament, according to initial results.

Three candidates in single-member constituencies claimed victory in the first round of voting including the former finance minister and one of the Homeland Union’s leaders, Ingrida Simonyte, a former candidate for president who oversaw drastic austerity cuts during the global financial crisis. She looks increasing likely to be the country’s next prime minister.

Under Lithuania’s election system, the remaining 68 lawmakers will be elected in a proportional vote on October 25.

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As polls closed at 7 pm CEST on Sunday, Lithuania’s Central Electoral Commission said that initial voter turnout stood at 47.16 per cent, which is three percentage points lower than in the 2016 election.

A recent surge in COVID-19 cases, soaring virus-related unemployment and economic challenges are the major issues that have sparked criticism of the current coalition government.

President Gitanas Nauseda cast his vote with his wife Diana at a polling station in Vilnius, the capital, and told reporters he hoped for better mutual understanding and cooperation with the new Parliament.

“I wish the next five or several years to be splendid for Lithuania. We have all the opportunities for that,” said Nauseda, who assumed the head of state’s post in this European Union and NATO member last year.

He said what the country needed following the election was “a clear vision and strategy.”

The recent sharp rise in coronavirus infections in Lithuania and new restrictions to fight the spread of COVID-19 may affect turnout among the country’s 2.4 million registered voters. Some 7.3 per cent cast their ballots in early voting, according to the Central Electoral Commission.

The second round of voting has been set for October 25 in constituencies where no candidate gets a majority.

Many Lithuanians complain that the government did not do enough to help companies during the nation’s coronavirus lockdown, as the unemployment rate jumped from 9 per cent in February to more than 14 per cent in October. Others say the strict health regulations focused on fighting the virus left thousands of other patients without proper access to health services.

Marius Sulga, a 44-year-old teacher from Lithuania’s second-largest city, Kaunas, said he voted for one of the opposition parties.

“I’m tired with all of these regulations, restrictions and limitations that came with this Cabinet long before the pandemic period,” Sulga said. “It is just not the kind of Lithuania that we dreamed about when we broke away from (the Soviet) occupation decades ago.“

Supporters of the ruling coalition say this coastal Baltic country has suffered relatively lightly in the pandemic. So far Lithuania has seen 5,963 confirmed coronavirus cases and just over 100 deaths.

Marija Kazlauskiene, a 75-year-old retiree, said she prefers the ruling coalition.

“They have done a tremendous job in saving the country from this virus — just look at those other poor countries in the EU. Lithuania has managed to avoid all of that suffering,” she said after casting her ballot in downtown Vilnius.

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Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia and Azerbaijan approve ceasefire

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Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed a temporary ceasefire in the conflict in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the agreement just before 03:00 local time (01:00 BST), following 10 hours of talks in Moscow.

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The two countries will now begin “substantive” talks, he said.

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More than 300 people have died and thousands displaced since the latest violence in the long-running conflict broke out on 27 September.

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The hostilities will be halted from midday (08:00 GMT) on Saturday, to allow an exchange of prisoners and the recovery of dead bodies.

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Nagorno-Karabakh is run by ethnic Armenians although it is officially part of Azerbaijan.

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The two former Soviet republics have blamed each other for the latest outbreak of violence – the worst in decades.

Russia has a military base in Armenia and both are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) alliance.

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However, Moscow also has good relations with Azerbaijan.

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What’s the latest on the ground?

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On Friday the Armenian defence ministry said fighting continued through the day, despite the talks being held in Moscow.

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On Thursday, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of deliberately shelling a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh. Pictures showed serious damage at the Holy Saviour Cathedral in Shusha city (known as Shushi in Armenian).

At the same time, Azerbaijan said that its second-largest city, Ganja, and the region of Goranboy had been shelled by Armenian forces, with at least one civilian killed.

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Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned of a “genocide” in the region, and said it was “Armenia, land of Armenians”.

The clashes have displaced half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population – about 70,000 people – officials said.

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The region’s main city, Stepanakert, has suffered several days of shelling with residents sheltering in basements and much of the city left without power.

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Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94, eventually declaring a ceasefire. However, they never reached a settlement in the dispute.

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Coronavirus: Move on from Covid lockdown row, Varadkar urges

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Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has said the Irish government and public health officials need to move on from a row about Covid-19 restrictions.

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On Sunday, the cabinet rejected a recommendation that the whole country should move to level 5 of its Living with Covid-19 plan.

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The measures would have been similar to the spring lockdown.

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Instead, ministers put the whole state on level 3.

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This means people are asked not to leave their county except for essential reasons and are encouraged to work from home wherever possible.

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One coronavirus-related death was recorded in the Republic on Thursday bringing the death toll to 1,817.

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A further 506 new cases of Covid-19 were also reported.

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On Monday, Mr Varadkar described the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommendation, which would have allowed schools and crèches to remain open as “a bolt out of the blue.”

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In the Dáil (lower house of parliament) on Thursday afternoon he said he was first informed of the recommendation on Sunday evening and in writing at 20:30 local time just 30 minutes before Irish broadcaster RTÉ reported what NPHET was proposing.

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It should not be about the government versus NPHET, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil, adding: “This is Ireland versus the virus.”

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Hospital capacity

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The tánaiste repeated his criticism that moving to level 5 had “not been thought through” including the implications of the Northern Ireland dimension in the shared goal of reducing the spread of the virus.

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Questioned by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, Mr Varadkar denied there was a lack of hospital capacity.

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The tánaiste said the government had added 800 hospital beds – 150 of which were being used by Covid-19 patients – and there were now an additional 60 ICU beds since the spring lockdown, bringing the total to 225, with 25 being used by Covid patients.

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He said the country would be able to cope if there was a surge in coronavirus cases and was in a better position to do so than some other countries whose health services “get a better press”.

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NPHET officials met on Thursday to discuss their concerns about the spread of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland.

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It said it remains deeply concerned about the rising levels, however did not recommend tightening restrictions.

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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the situation had deteriorated further since Sunday.

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Georgia Urged to Guarantee Journalists’ Safety After Attacks on TV Crews

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Georgian authorities to guarantee the safety of journalists covering the parliamentary election campaign in the country after TV crews were attacked during clashes between pro-government and pro-opposition activists.

“We call on the leaders of the two parties to condemn these attacks and we urge the authorities to conduct an exhaustive and transparent investigation in order to identify those responsible,” the Paris-based watchdog said in a statement  on October 1, warning that the environment for journalists has “worsened” in the run-up to the October 31 vote.

RSF said at least five journalists covering the campaign were physically attacked in the southern town of Marneuli on September 29 during clashes between members of the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition United National Movement.

Jeyhun Muhamedali, one of four journalists with the opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, was hospitalized with a head injury sustained during the violence, in which a camera and microphone were damaged, according to the group.

A camera operator with Georgia’s public broadcaster GPB was also attacked and his camera smashed.

Georgian police have launched an investigation into the violence and into the obstruction of journalists’ work.

“The state has an obligation to guarantee journalists’ safety. With four weeks to go to a high-stakes election, impunity for those responsible for violence must be combatted,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

The South Caucasus country is ranked 60th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Georgia Urged to Guarantee Journalists’ Safety After Attacks on TV Crews

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Georgian authorities to guarantee the safety of journalists covering the parliamentary election campaign in the country after TV crews were attacked during clashes between pro-government and pro-opposition activists.

“We call on the leaders of the two parties to condemn these attacks and we urge the authorities to conduct an exhaustive and transparent investigation in order to identify those responsible,” the Paris-based watchdog said in a statement  on October 1, warning that the environment for journalists has “worsened” in the run-up to the October 31 vote.

RSF said at least five journalists covering the campaign were physically attacked in the southern town of Marneuli on September 29 during clashes between members of the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition United National Movement.

Jeyhun Muhamedali, one of four journalists with the opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, was hospitalized with a head injury sustained during the violence, in which a camera and microphone were damaged, according to the group.

A camera operator with Georgia’s public broadcaster GPB was also attacked and his camera smashed.

Georgian police have launched an investigation into the violence and into the obstruction of journalists’ work.

“The state has an obligation to guarantee journalists’ safety. With four weeks to go to a high-stakes election, impunity for those responsible for violence must be combatted,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

The South Caucasus country is ranked 60th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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