LONDON — The British government has been accused of introducing local lockdowns by stealth after it introduced tighter restrictions for eight local areas in England that it says are hot spots for the coronavirus variant first identified in India.
On Tuesday, lawmakers and local public health officials said they hadn’t been made aware of changes that the Conservative government published online last Friday.
In that updated guidance, it recommended that people within the eight localities, which includes Hounslow in west London, the city of Leicester and the towns of Blackburn and Bolton, shouldn’t meet up indoors or travel outside their areas.
Yasmin Qureshi, a Labour Party lawmaker in Bolton, said she hadn’t been informed of the changes, saying it was “typical of this government’s incompetence.”
Cabinet minister Teresa Coffey said the updated guidance shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as it just formalized “on the record” the outlines of what the government had been saying for days.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Fourth Czech health minister resigns since start of pandemic
— In NYC’s furthest flung neighborhood, vaccine a tough sell
— Japan says US travel warning for virus won’t hurt Olympians
— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic on Tuesday lost its fourth health minister since the coronavirus pandemic struck last year.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said that the current office-holder Petr Arenberger called him in Brussels, where Babis is attending a summit of European Union leaders to announce his resignation.
Arenberger, the director of Prague’s University Hospital Vinohrady, was only sworn in by President Milos Zeman on April 7.
He has been recently under fire from the media due to alleged irregularities in his tax returns. He declared he owned more assets and had a higher income after he became a government minister than in the preceding years.
It also emerged that he was renting one of his undeclared properties to the university hospital. That deal was signed before he was appointed its director.
MELBOURNE, Australia — The city that was once Australia’s worst COVID-19 hot spot increased pandemic restrictions Tuesday after identifying a cluster from someone infected in quarantine.
Masks became mandatory indoors in Melbourne, home gatherings were restricted to five visitors and outdoor gatherings were limited to 30, Victoria state’s Acting Premier James Merlino said. The restrictions will apply until June 4.
New Zealand was halting quarantine-free travel to Victoria for three days from Tuesday evening. Health officials said they were taking a cautious approach as there were several unknowns about the Melbourne outbreak.
The cases are linked to a Melbourne traveler who became infected in hotel quarantine in South Australia state earlier this month. Five cases were confirmed Tuesday by Victoria state’s Health Department, bringing the cluster to nine since Monday.
Australia’s second-largest city had an outbreak last year that peaked at 725 new cases in a single August day at a time when community spread had been virtually eliminated elsewhere in Australia. Victoria state, where Melbourne is the capital, accounts for 820 of Australia’s 910 coronavirus deaths.
New Zealand and Australia opened a quarantine-free travel bubble last month. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is due to visit New Zealand on Sunday for the first time since the pandemic began.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka said Tuesday it will immediately purchase 14 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine as the island nation faces a severe shortage of shots and a surge of COVID-19 cases.
The decision marks a shift to the Chinese vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca shots manufactured in India. Sri Lanka’s larger neighbor has been experiencing a virus crisis and is struggling to meet its own vaccine demands.
Sri Lankan government spokesman Ramesh Pathirana said due to the inability of India’s Serum Institute “to provide sufficient quantities, we needed to look into another source.
“That’s why we look forward to sourcing some vaccines from Sinopharm.”
Sri Lanka began its vaccination drive in January using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. But 600,000 people who got a first dose are still waiting on their second because of the shortage.
Sri Lanka has confirmed 164,201 infections with 1,210 fatalities.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s government has imposed a nightly curfew and other restrictions under an eight-day “health emergency” meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
All outdoor activity will be banned from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. under the decree issued Monday by President Jovenel Moise.
The decree also makes the use of face masks mandatory for anyone out in public, while temperature checks and handwashing stations are required for all public or private buildings such as banks, schools, hospitals and markets. Social distancing in public places is set at 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet).
The president also has ordered public institutions to reduce staff on duty by 50%, while he is encouraging that other employees work from home.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico has ended a nightly pandemic curfew after more than a year in force and will allow vaccinated visitors to enter the island without a negative coronavirus test result.
The island has been under a curfew since March 2020, when the first coronavirus case was reported. Even when the curfew was sometimes changed, it mostly stayed between midnight and 5 a.m.
Arriving visitors who are not vaccinated will still be required to present a negative coronavirus test or promise to offer a test result within 48 hours. The government intends to impose a $300 fine to those who don’t comply with the testing.
ROME — The tiny island nation of Malta says it has administered at least one coronavirus vaccine to 70% of its population to lead Europe in the inoculation race.
Health Minister Chris Fearne said 42% of Malta’s people had been completely inoculated. The achievement has led to a 95% decrease in patients being admitted to Malta’s COVID-19 hospital, he said.
With a population of about a half-million, Malta is the smallest European Union member state. It has been using the four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency.
According to the ourworldindata.org website, Malta leads even Israel and Britain in administering at least one shot of the vaccine to its population.
Malta has reported some 30,000 cases and 417 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.
The Associated Press