Morning briefing: England and other UK nations begin to diverge

Good morning.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has encouraged people who cannot work from home, including those in construction, to commute to their jobs once more, avoiding public transport wherever possible. In a speech yesterday he announced that, from Wednesday, people will be allowed to exercise outdoors an unlimited number of times, sit in parks, and play sports such as golf with household members. (This morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has clarified that the advice on working only applies from Wednesday, too.) 

Primary schools and some non-essential shops could reopen as early as 1 June, and both cafés and restaurants with outdoor space could reopen in July. Downing Street will publish a 50-page document with more detail at 2pm today before Johnson faces MPs in the House of Commons at 3:30pm. The government is expected to announce that people can meet up with one person from another household, providing social distancing measures are followed.

The plan has faced criticism both from trade unions and from other parts of the UK. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland will loosen rules on going outdoors this week, but they are beginning to diverge from England. Johnson’s decision to drop the “Stay at Home” slogan for the less specific “Stay Alert” has not been copied in the devolved administrations, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling the new message “vague and imprecise”. No sunbathing, picnics or barbecues will be allowed in Scotland, she said, in contrast to England.

The Trades Union Congress said Johnson’s plea for a return to work was a “recipe for chaos”. “The government still hasn’t published guidance on how workers will be kept safe. So how can the prime minister – with 12 hours’ notice – tell people they should be going back to sites and factories?” asked general secretary Frances O’Grady.

Meanwhile, scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have found evidence that some strains of the virus are mutating, calling it an “early warning” for those hoping to create vaccines. The analysis found that, while most coronavirus genomes around the world are stable, some are not. “Even if these mutations are not important for vaccines, other mutations might be and we need to maintain our surveillance so we are not caught out by deploying a vaccine that only works against some strains,” said Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases.

Global updates:

NZ: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has further eased coronavirus restrictions. Parties, weddings, stag dos and funerals will be allowed, but will be capped at ten people. The country reported three new cases.

France: Clothes shops, bookshops, hair salons and florists will reopen today, and primary schools will restart classes with limited pupil numbers.

South Korea: South Korea reported 35 new cases, with 29 linked to one man visiting clubs and bars in Seoul. More than 1,500 people who possibly encountered the man have been alerted. It marks the biggest daily rise in cases for a month.

China: Authorities tightened measures in the city of Shulan, in Jilin province near the Russian border, after a small outbreak of new cases; 17 new cases were reported nationwide, the highest in nearly two weeks.

Spain: Regions comprising half of the country’s population – and excluding Barcelona and Madrid – will be able to meet with family or friends in groups of up to ten people from today. Outdoor spaces in bars and restaurants can reopen with limited capacity.

US: Some of the country’s top health officials, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are now in quarantine after coming into contact with a White House staffer with coronavirus.

India: India will reopen its train network from tomorrow, even as new infections rise. Yesterday, the country reported more than 67,000 new cases and 2,200 deaths.

Australia: States are lifting lockdown restrictions this week following the publication of a new government plan for the next few months. Victoria is now allowing five people to travel between homes, and for groups of up to ten people to meet outdoors. New South Wales will adopt the same measures on Friday.

Netherlands: Primary schools will partially reopen today. Libraries, physiotherapists, driving schools and hairdressers will also reopen.

Switzerland: Primary and middle schools will reopen with limited class sizes today, while restaurants, bookshops and museums will also reopen with some restrictions.

Bangladesh: The country reported its highest number of daily infections (884) and deaths (14), as its number of cases passed 14,000.

Sri Lanka: Lockdown will be eased today, with government and private businesses reopening with limited staff numbers. The country has reported 863 cases.


Read more on the New Statesman:

British politics and Covid-19 is about to become a big argument about social class

Labour’s policy on renters and Covid-19 is one pledge too long

Exclusive: Video shows key UK official in 2016 anticipating “a pandemic that killed a lot of people”

The clamour to “reopen” the US could cause more damage than it prevents

How public figures are spending the Covid-19 lockdown

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.