Today’s coronavirus news: Over 100 fines issued in UK ‘partygate’ probe, London police say


The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Thursday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7:20 a.m. The number of fines issued over breaches of coronavirus regulations at British government offices, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official residence, has expanded to more than 100, London’s Metropolitan Police force said Thursday.

Johnson admitted last month that he was among dozens of people who paid a police fine for attending lockdown-breaching parties and gatherings, making him the first British leader to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.

Revelations that Johnson and other senior officials gathered illegally in government buildings in 2020 and 2021 – when millions in the country were told to restrict their lives to slow the spread of COVID-19 – has angered voters and triggered calls for Johnson to resign.

Johnson apologized for attending his own surprise birthday party at 10 Downing St. in June 2020, but insisted that it “did not occur” to him that the gathering was a party.

Johnson’s wife, Carrie, and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak also said they were fined for attending the same event.

The police force’s update doubled the number of fixed-penalty notices issued so far over the scandal that has been dubbed “partygate.” Last month, the force said it had given about 50 such ends as a result of its investigation.

Police do not identify the recipients of the fines.

6:23 a.m. US COVID-19 cases are up, leading to smattering of school districts, particularly in the Northeast, to bring back mask mandates and recommendations for the first time since the omicron winter surge ended and as the country approaches 1 million deaths in the pandemic.

The return of masking in schools is not nearly as widespread as earlier in the pandemic, particularly as the public’s worries about the virus have ebbed. But districts in Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have brought masks back, with a few in Massachusetts also recommending them even as the school year enters its final weeks.

Maine’s largest school district, in Portland, said this week masks would return, with Superintendent Xavier Botana saying that it was the “safest course at this time” amid rising cases. Bangor, Maine, schools also brought back a universal mask requirement.

High schools in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and in Montclair, New Jersey, a commuter suburb of New York City, also announced a return to masking, albeit temporarily through this week. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the counties in the country considered to have “high” levels of COVID-19 are in the Northeast.

In parts of Massachusetts that have seen high levels of COVID-19 transmission, authorities are also recommending masks in schools.

Reactions have ranged from supportive to angry. On the Facebook page of Woodland Hills High School in suburban Pittsburgh, one woman called the change “#insane.”

6:21 a.m. The European Commission said on Thursday it will gradually put an end to the temporary rules that allowed the 27 EU member countries to benefit from extra public support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Adopted in March 2020, the so-called State Aid COVID Temporary Framework relaxed the European Union’s strict state-aid regulations to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

In light of the improving economic situation in the region, coupled with the lifting of restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the virus over the past two years, the commission said that another prolongation of the scheme is not necessary.

The mechanism won’t be extended beyond it expirary date on June 30, but the commission insisted the phaseout will take place gradually and businesses won’t be suddenly cut off from support.

During the pandemic, the EU approved a multibillion rescue package and member states agreed on a 1.8 trillion euro recovery plan and long-term budget for the 2021-2027 period.

6:21 a.m. North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown Thursday to control its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak after holding for more than two years to a widely doubted claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world.

The outbreak forced leader Kim Jong Un to wear a mask in public, likely for the first time since the start of the pandemic, but the scale of transmissions inside North Korea wasn’t immediately known. A failure to slow infections could have serious consequences because the country has a poor health care system and its 26 million people are believed to be mostly unvaccinated. Some experts say North Korea, by its rare admission of an outbreak, may be seeking outside aid.

The official Korean Central News Agency said tests of samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the Omicron variant.

In response, Kim called at a ruling party Politburo meeting for a thorough lockdown of cities and counties and said workplaces should be isolated by units to block the virus from spreading. He urged health workers to step up disinfection efforts at workplaces and homes and mobilize reserve medical supplies.

Kim said it was crucial to control transmissions and eliminate the infection source as fast as possible, while also easing inconveniences to the public caused by the virus controls. He insisted the country will overcome the outbreak because its government and people are “united as one.”

6:20 a.m. US President Joe Biden will appeal for a renewed international commitment to attacking COVID-19 as he agrees to a second virtual summit on the pandemic and marks 1 million deaths in the United States.

“As a nation, we must not grow numb to such sorrow,” Biden said in a statement Thursday. “To heal, we must remember. We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible.”

The president called on Congress to provide more funding for testing, vaccines and treatments, some lawmakers have been unwilling to deliver so far.

The lack of funding — Biden has requested another $22.5 billion of what he calls critically needed money — is a reflection of faltering resolve at home that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic.

Eight months after he used the first such summit to announce an ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses to the world, the urgency of the US and other nations to respond has waned.

Momentum on vaccinations and treatments has faded even as more infectious variants rise and billions of people across the globe remain unprotected.

The White House said Biden will address the opening of the virtual summit Thursday morning with pre-recorded remarks and will make the case that addressing COVID-19 “must remain an international priority.” The US is co-hosting the summit along with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.

The US has shipped nearly 540 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department — by far more than any other donor nation.

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