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UK prime minister Boris Johnson orders new virus lockdown for England

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“England will go back into a full national coronavirus lockdown, with schools closed and people required to stay at home until at least mid-February, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday evening.

Under the lockdown, household mixing indoors will be banned, and only essential shops will remain open.

“I want to say to everyone right across the UK that I know how tough this is, and I know how frustrated you are, and I know that you’ve had more than enough of government guidance about defeating this virus,” Johnson said. “But now, more than ever, we must pull together.””

Schools will be closed to all but vulnerable children and the children of essential workers from Tuesday, one day after many primary schools reopened following the Christmas break.
Students will not be expected to return until at least after the February half term, the prime minister said, adding that exams would not go ahead in the summer as planned.

People will be ordered to stay at home except for a few reasons, including caring for vulnerable people, performing essential work, and buying food and medicine. Amateur team sports will also be banned, though exercising will still be allowed with up to one other person outside your household.

Shielding will also return for the most vulnerable people, the prime minister said.

He added that by mid-February, “if things go well, and with a fair wind in our sails,” those most in need of vaccinations will have received one.”The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet, but I really do believe that we’re entering the last phase of the struggle,” Johnson said. “Because with every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against COVID and in favour of the British people.”

Johnson called on the public to observe the new rules immediately, with the law coming into force from Wednesday morning.

The prime minister had resisted imposing another full national lockdown and had insisted as late as Sunday that schools were safe to reopen.

His statement followed the announcement of a lockdown by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier Monday.

The UK has had exponential growth in infections and hospitalizations since a new, faster-spreading variant of the virus was identified last month.

Hospitals in some parts of the country are now mostly filled with COVID-19 patients. Some hospitals are running out of oxygen because of a surge in demand for respirators.

“Our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” Johnson said, adding that there had been about a 30% increase in hospitalizations in the past week alone.

Johnson was under growing pressure to impose a full lockdown. Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, on Sunday called for an immediate national lockdown, saying the situation in England is “clearly out of control.” The prime minister had planned to allow widespread household mixing over the Christmas period but reversed the decision in some parts of the country days before the holiday.

Weeks ago, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened to take local authorities to court for closing schools early for Christmas because of the surge in infections. But Williamson recently announced that secondary-school openings would be delayed and that primary schools would not reopen in most of London and parts of the South East.

The National Education Union has advised teachers across the country not to attend schools because of the “serious and imminent danger” to their health caused by the virus.Teaching unions believe that newly released papers by the UK government’s scientific advisory committee warning that schools would need to close in order to bring the virus under control mean that any attempt to force schools to open would be a breach of UK work-safety regulations.

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Two Indian-Americans have been named as Biden’s domestic policy advisers

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New York: A day after US President Joe Biden joked that Indian-Americans were taking over the US, he appointed two of them as special assistants for advising him on domestic policies.

The White House on Friday released the announcement by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appointing Chiraag Bains and Pronita Gupta to those positions on the Domestic Policy Council. Both of them had served in the administration of former President Barack Obama, when Biden was the Vice President.

Bains will deal with criminal justice while Gupta will deal with labour and workers.

The duo joins more than 20 Indian-Americans who have been appointed by Biden to senior positions in his administration. They will not require Senate confirmation as they will be on the President’s staff.

Bains worked in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, first as a prosecutor of civil rights crimes and then as senior counsel to the assistant attorney general.

He was one of the investigators and prosecutors in the federal case against the city of Ferguson for civil rights violations over the shooting of an African American teenager by a white police officer in 2014 that led to nationwide protests and riots.

He was recently the director of legal strategies at Demos, a national public policy organisation, where he led voting rights litigation. Before that, he was a senior fellow at the Harvard Law School and a clerk for a federal judge.

A key component of Biden’s election manifesto is criminal justice reform to ensure that minorities are not treated unfairly by laws and law enforcement agencies.

Gupta was the deputy director of the Labour Department’s Women’s Bureau in the Obama administration.

She was recently the director of job quality for the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Her previous jobs included stints as research director for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and for the Living Wage Campaign at the LA Alliance for a New Economy.

While congratulating Swati Mohan, the NASA engineer who guided the Mars rover Perseverance to a soft landing on the planet, Biden had said on Thursday, “Indian-descent Americans are taking over this country — you, my vice president, my speechwriter Vinay (Reddy). But I tell you what, thanks. You guys are incredible.”

On Wednesday, Biden had announced the appointment of a Pakistani American, Dilwar Syed, to be the deputy director of the Small Business Administration.

Biden has a track record of working with Indian-Americans and other Asians to promote their participation in US politics.

He is the co-founder with Shekhar Narasimhan of the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Victory Fund, which is a political action committee that encourages and helps Asian Americans to run in elections, besides raising funds and mobilising voters.

He is the president and CEO at Lumiata, an Artificial Intelligence company in the healthcare field.

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Roman Orthodox Church rejects demands for baptism changes after infant’s death

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The leadership of the Romanian Orthodox Church has decided not to change its ancient practice of full-immersion baptism of babies despite public outrage that followed the recent death of an infant during christening.

The denomination’s decision-making body, Holy Synod, has announced that the baptism ritual will remain and that it will only urge priests to be more careful when they perform the ritual, according to Radio Free Europe.

“We do not demand the [end] of the practice of baptism but its modification so [babies] are prevented from unnecessary and even absurd risks!” reads an online petition that had gathered over 65,500 names as of Saturday.

The petition, arguing that the tradition involves brutality and should be abolished, was launched by a teacher, Vladimir Dumitru, in response to the death of a 6-week-old baby on Feb. 1 after suffering cardiac arrest while being baptized in a church in the northern town of Suceava.

The priest, identified as Alexandru Mazarache, fully immersed the baby in the water three times in the baptismal font, DW reported earlier. The child first cried, then became still, then the infant’s lips turned blue. The baby was taken to a hospital, where he died a few hours later.

The priest is a suspect in the investigation on charges of involuntary manslaughter. His lawyer, Marcel Balatchi, was quoted as saying that the priest had “performed the ritual according to church canons.”

Romania’s ombudsman has suggested some health and safety measures to the church, including increasing the age of the child for baptism.

A spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, Vasile Banescu, earlier suggested the churches could sprinkle holy water over babies instead of immersing them.

“It is, without a doubt, a tragic case, a case that will have to be investigated. Let’s not imagine that a child can be put in water without covering his nose, mouth and ears,” Banescu told Antena 3. “There is a technique that an experienced priest always uses. This is how a baptism is celebrated with the utmost care.”

Teodosie Petrescu, the archbishop of Tomis in the country’s southeast, had rejected calls for babies to be sprinkled with water. He was quoted as saying earlier that the tradition of immersing a child three times during baptism has carried on for 2 millennia and will continue.

“There’s no way for the ritual to change. These canons of faith will be available for another 1,000 years. That is why we will not change. We’re not intimidated,” Petrescu said.

The archbishop added that babies should be immersed in cold water, which not only “sharpens” their spirituality, but is also suitable for their health.

Over 80% of Romanians are Orthodox Christians.
Sources:Christian Post

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