Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- Politicians and citizens in the United Kingdom are calling for Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to the Prime Minister, to be fired after breaking strict lockdown measures that he helped create.
- Days after those measures went into effect, Cummings drove his young son and wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, 260 miles north from London to Durham.
- As Cummings explained on Monday, this was to allow his parents to care for his son in case he came down with symptoms, too.
- A day later, he did. Eventually, so did his son, who was later taken to the hospital.
Cummings Travels 260 Miles After Lockdown Restrictions
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to fire his chief adviser Dominic Cummings after Cummings broke lockdown measures he helped create.
On March 23, the United Kingdom imposed strict lockdown orders that barred nearly all travel; however, on March 27, Cummings drove 260 miles from London to his parents’ home in the northern city of Durham.
Notably, he also brought his 4-year-old son as well as his wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The next day after arriving in Durham, Cummings developed symptoms. It was also later learned that eventually, so did his son, who had to spend a night in the hospital.
Only a couple of weeks after experiencing symptoms, Cummings and his family then reportedly visited a local castle.
According to the government’s stay-at-home orders—which Cummings reportedly helped directly create—people with children were told to comply “to the best of your ability.”
While England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer warned that “if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance,” she also added that people without child care or family support should contact their local authorities for help. That is something Cummings didn’t do.
In fact, Cummings also failed to tell Johnson he was making this trip.
Because of that, many have used social media to rail at Cummings for seemingly flouting his own rules.
One Twitter user said, “he has COVID symptoms so he drives the length of the country to deliver a potentially contagious child to a household of two elderly people, and he wants to keep his job?”
Many others, including journalist Piers Morgan, have shared personal stories of being unable to visit their elderly relatives. Some have even noted that they obeyed lockdown orders in lieu of comforting dying family and friends or attending funerals.
A number of politicians in parliament have also called for Johnson to fire Cummings, including more than 35 Conservatives in Johnson’s own party.
Still, following this, Johnson defended Cummings, saying he “followed the instincts of every father and every parent.”
Cummings Addresses His Travel
On Monday, Cummings held a news conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the office of the prime minister. More than 3.7 million people tuned in to listen to Cummings address the mounting criticism.
At the conference, Cummings defended his actions. Originally, he said that he, his wife, and his son had all quarantined together, but when they began to suspect that his wife might have had the coronavirus and could possibly spread it to him, they left.
Cummings argued this was so that his extended family would be able to care for his son if both of them became ill.
Notably, he said he didn’t stop on the way up to his father’s farm.
Cummings went on to say that because he needed to ensure childcare for his son, that constituted an “exceptional situation” granted under the lockdown orders.
“I don’t regret what I did,” Cummings said. “As I said, I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances, but I think that what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.”
Regarding why he visited the castle, Cummings claimed that this was to test his eyesight to see if he could drive back to London, this because he said he had experienced vision loss from the coronavirus.
As to why he didn’t tell Johnson about his trip to Durham, Cummings said it was because Johnson had just fallen ill himself and had other issues to worry about. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27.
Still, Cummings did admit that he had made a mistake in not telling Johnson.
“I think lots of people would be very angry and I completely understand that,” he said, “but I hope and think that, today, when I’ve actually explained all the circumstances about it.”
“I think people realize that this was a very complicated, tricky situation. I was trying to weigh out a lot of different things. Some people might have behaved differently in some ways. As I said, you know, arguably, it was a mistake that I didn’t call Prime Minister on the Friday night, but I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. But I make decisions like that everyday.”
MP Resigns from Government Post
If Cummings hoped that the masses would be understanding after his explanation, he was wrong. While some people have certainly approached the situation from the perspective of a desperate parent wanting to do anything to protect their child, others have remained critical.
In fact, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Ross, announced that he was resigning from his post following Cummings’ conference.
According to Ross, while that conference “clarified” Cummings’ actions, “these were decisions many others felt were not available to them.”
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the government was right,” he added.
Ross, who is also a Conservative member of parliament, will continue in that role without resigning.
Essentially, this move is meant to put extra pressure on Johnson, as Ross’ Under-Secretary of State position was a function of the prime minister’s cabinet.
Whether that pressure or any pressure will actually lead to Johnson firing Cummings is a big question that remains unanswered, though Johnson has indicated thus far that he doesn’t plan on firing Cummings.
As The Washington Post points out, Johnson may think that he needs Cummings, this because Cummings is “focused on doing whatever is necessary to get his policies through.”
In fact, because of that, Cummings has been described as “arguably the second-most powerful man in Britain.”
Still, if Johnson loses the support of his party over this, there is the possibility that Conservative members of Parliament could trigger a leadership contest. As to how likely such a situation would be, that may become more clear in the coming days.
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (The Guardian)
100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says
- On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
- Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
- Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard.
- The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.
Some Americans Left Behind
A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.
When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.
While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.
The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.
On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”
“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.
“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.
The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.
The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.
The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.
While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.
While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.
Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.
Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition
- At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
- Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
- The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Growing Violence Across Myanmar
Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.
According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.
The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.
Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.
Sanctions May Not Work
The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.
At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.
Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”
“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”
While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.
See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
- The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
- Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
- Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.
For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.
In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.
Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy
Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.
Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,
While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.
The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.
While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.