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Britain divided over reopening schools as virus rules ease

Tori Holland

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Year 6 teacher Jane Cooper uses a 2 meter length of ruler and pipe to check seat spacings in her classroom as measures are taken to prevent the transmission of coronavirus before the possible reopening of Lostock Hall Primary school in Poynton near Manchester, England, Wednesday May 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

LONDON (AP) — David Waugh is putting down barrier tape and spraying yellow lines on the ground outside the main door of his school near Manchester.

Waugh, who oversees five schools in northwestern England, already has painted yellow arrows to ensure that children follow a one-way path around the building when they return next month from an extended break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Soft furniture and play equipment have been cordoned off, and desks have been spread apart. Waugh has stocked up on 7,500 face masks, hundreds of pairs of gloves, hand sanitizer and other supplies.

“The government says we don’t need them, but I certainly couldn’t have risked not having them,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s the unknown, the utter unknown. We’re taking baby steps forward at the moment, trying to win the hearts and minds of parents and teachers.”

Since March 20, the coronavirus has forced British schools to close to all but a small number of key workers’ children and those under social care. The government wants children to start returning to primary schools in stages from June 1. Those going back first include the youngest — ages 4 to 6. Daycare providers also have been told to start welcoming back babies and toddlers from June.

The reopening has divided the country and faced vehement opposition from teachers unions, which say it’s too risky for everyone and could cause a spike in infections. Dozens of local authorities have refused to follow the reopening timetable. Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have their own governments, are not opening schools until August at the earliest.

Worried parents are texting each other the same question: “Are you sending your kid back?”

Justine Roberts, who founded parenting website Mumsnet, said the decision to send the youngest children back first is “causing bafflement and some anger, and a suspicion that decisions are being driven by the need to get people back to work.”

Teachers union NASUWT cited a poll of 29,000 members that suggested only 5% think the plan is safe. Other unions have told members not to engage with planning for an early June opening.

Mary Bousted, joint leader of the National Education Union, said the plan is “simply not safe, it is not fair, it is not feasible.”

Unions say they are unconvinced by the scientific evidence on the topic published by the government. They also want the tracking and tracing system for those infected to be in place first.

Charlotte Smith, whose 14-year-old son is unaffected by the plan, joined a small protest of the reopening Thursday in Manchester. She didn’t believe administrators have thought through how to work out social distancing “that isn’t damaging to kids.”

“There’s absolutely no way I would want my kid to go into an environment that’s psychologically damaging for them,” she said. “We need to rethink education and we can’t do that in two weeks.”

In its guidance to schools, the Education Department said face masks are not recommended in schools, and acknowledged that young children can’t be expected to keep the 2-meter (6-foot) social-distancing guidelines. It said class sizes should be halved and limited to a maximum of 15, and that children should be separated into the same small groups.

Waugh’s school group, the True Learning Partnership in Cheshire, is doing that and more.

He is planning to split students into “mini school” zones, each with separate entrances, daily timetables and play areas. Meals will be delivered to classrooms. Teachers’ desks will be 2-meter “exclusion zones” ringed off with tape. Even the cutlery will be assigned to separate groups.

It’s “more than feasible” to make schools safe, he said, even if it’s a “logistical nightmare.”

English schools will be following those in Denmark, Germany, France and elsewhere that are easing restrictions. Proponents say the effect of being away from the classroom has been felt keenly by the most disadvantaged families.

A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said school closures will almost certainly increase educational inequality. Wealthier children are spending 30% more time on home learning during lockdown — about 5.8 hours a day — than those in poorer families and have access to better resources like online tutors, it found.

Working parents, too, are increasingly frustrated about working from home with children. Sarah Hesz, a mother of three, says that after considering the risks, she plans to send her 5-year-old back to school next month.

“People are so torn, worried and confused about what is best,” said Hesz, who works for a childcare app. “There is a massive part of me that want my kids to be learning again, to be with their friends again. At the moment, it’s just impossible. I can’t home school my kids and work.”

But it’s a tough sell for many, and one key concern is the risk of infection from children to adults. The confusion was highlighted when the doctors union, the British Medical Association, first backed teachers who oppose a June 1 reopening, only to change its stance days later.

The BMA said Wednesday that while there was growing evidence that the virus risk to children is extremely small, there is conflicting evidence about the likelihood of children spreading it to others.

“A zero-risk approach is not possible,” it concluded. “This is about ‘safe’ being an acceptable level of risk.”

Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, acknowledged that data on how infectious children are is “pretty sparse.”

“There are significant welfare and wellbeing issues for children who are out (of school) months and months on end. It’s delicate and difficult, and I accept that,” he said.

Jane Cooper, who teaches older children at Lostock Hall Primary School, said she was looking forward to seeing her pupils again. She knows the new normal won’t be easy, especially for younger children who want to cuddle or hold hands.

“We can’t really sit next to children and teach them as we normally do, it’s not as hands-on teaching,” she said, adding that her students “will understand it, but the little ones won’t be able to, and that’s a bit sad really.”

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Jo Kearney contributed.

After being a professional journalist for 5 years and understanding the ups and downs of health care sector all over the world, Tori shifted her focus to the digital world. Today, she works as a contributor for News Brig with a knack for covering general and health news in the best possible format.

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NYPD arrests more than 1,000 people amid George Floyd protests

Evan Lewis

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NYPD arrests more than 1,000 people amid George Floyd protests

The NYPD this week made more than 1,000 arrests tied to the protests over George Floyd’s death and issued another 1,475 summonses for violating the city’s curfew, police said Saturday.

Only a small percentage of the 1,049 people arrested — 119 in total — live outside of the city including 37 from New Jersey and four from Connecticut.

The charges against them included property damage, resisting arrest and burglary.

Two Ohio men were also charged after protesters spotted a cache of weapons

in Brooklyn and alerted police, according to a report.

Of the total number of those arrested, 21 were repeat offenders; 54 were known to have a gang affiliation and 33 or had a  prior connection to a shooting or homicide or access to weapons, police said.

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U.S. senator Scott says China trying to sabotage vaccine development

Evan Lewis

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U.S. senator Scott says China trying to sabotage vaccine development

FILE PHOTO: Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) attends a luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

LONDON (Reuters) – The United States has evidence China is trying to slow down or sabotage the development of a COVID-19 vaccine by Western countries, Republican senator Rick Scott said on Sunday.

“We have got to get this vaccine done. Unfortunately we have evidence that communist China is trying to sabotage us or slow it down,” he said during an interview on BBC TV.

“China does not want us … to do it first, they have decided to be an adversary to Americans and I think to democracy around the world.”

Asked what evidence the United States had, Scott declined to give details but said it had come through the intelligence community.

“This vaccine is really important to all of us getting our economy going again. What I really believe is whether England does it first or we do it first, we are going to share. Communist China, they are not going to share.”

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Jason Neely

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Portland protesters dispersed near midnight

Tori Holland

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A protester holds a sign that reads "kill, it is being filmed" in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, June 6, 2020, to protest against the death of George Floyd, who died after he was restrained by police officers May 25 in Minneapolis, that has led to global protests. Further protests are planned over the weekend in European cities, some defying restrictions imposed by authorities due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Portland police disperse Oregon protesters near Justice Center

— Statue of Confederate Gen. Wickham is toppled in Richmond, Virginia

— Police use flash bangs, pepper spray to disperse Seattle protesters

— Portland mayor orders police to use CS gas only as a last resort

— Floyd protests held in London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Just before midnight, police began dispersing protesters in Portland near the county’s Justice Center after declaring “a civil disturbance and unlawful assembly.”

Portland police Lt. Tina Jones said on Twitter that a firework had been lobbed over the fence at the Justice Center, injuring a Multnomah County deputy. She says police were making arrests in the area.

In a video posted on Twitter by a Portland Tribune reporter, a voice from a loudspeaker could be heard ordering demonstrators to leave the area “or you will be subject to use of force and arrest.”

In earlier videos, popping noises could be heard as whiffs of smoke wafted from a street filled with demonstrators, and a police officer is seen momentarily clashing with a protester.

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RICHMOND, Va. — In the former capital of the Confederacy, demonstrators toppled a statue of Gen. Williams Carter Wickham from its pedestal after a day of mostly peaceful demonstrations across the commonwealth.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that most of the demonstrators had already dispersed when a rope was tied around the Confederate statue, which has stood since 1891 in Richmond’s Monroe Park, which is surrounded by the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. In 2017, some of Wickham’s descendants urged the city to remove the statue.

A Richmond police spokeswoman didn’t know if there were any arrests and the extent of any damage.

Confederate monuments are a major flashpoint in Virginia. Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that a state-owned statue of former Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee would be removed from its perch on the famed Monument Avenue “as soon as possible.”

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SEATTLE — Police used flash bang devices and pepper spray to disperse a crowd of protesters in Seattle on Saturday night, the ninth consecutive day of George Floyd protests in the city.

The mayhem in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood followed a large, peaceful demonstration earlier in the day with medical workers demonstrating against racism and police brutality. It also came a day after Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best imposed a 30-day moratorium on the department’s use of one kind of tear gas.

KING-TV reports that a small group of protesters started throwing objects at officers about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Police ordered the crowd to move, then used incendiary devices.

After police were severely criticized by protesters and public officials alike for using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse largely peaceful crowds, Durkan and Best said Friday outside groups would review and update crowd-control policies, including the use of pepper spray and deadly force techniques such as neck and choke holds. She and the mayor added that the ban on one kind of tear gas known as CS could be extended if groups need more time for policy review.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has ordered the city’s police not to use a type of tear gas except as a last resort in life-threatening situations.

Wheeler issued a statement Saturday saying he shares community concerns about the use of CS gas, especially during a respiratory-illness pandemic.

Critics have called on the Portland Police Bureau to permanently ban the use of CS gas on protesters.

The announcement came a day after the mayor said police would no longer use a “long-range acoustical device,” or LRAD, to disperse protesters. The device can emit high-pitched, loud frequencies and can cause hearing damage.

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ATLANTA — Protests downtown assumed an almost festive feel at times on Saturday, with Atlanta’s curfew lifted and police and National Guard presence somewhat out of view.

A group of black college band alumni were serenading one main protest area with a tuba-heavy mix of tunes from atop a parking garage.

Students from historically black colleges and other young people marched to City Hall to demand more action on police violence. Jauan Durbin said he began organizing protests after two fellow college students were pulled from their car and shocked with a stun gun last Saturday by police in Atlanta. The incident was caught on video by WGCL-TV and six officers were fired and then criminally charged.

Durbin said youth protesters are calling for increased financial assistance for black businesses from Atlanta’s city government and increased funding for the city’s public school system.

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LONDON — Tens of thousands gathered in cities far from the United States to express anger over the death of George Floyd, a sign that the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality is resonating with wider calls to address racism from Australia to Europe.

In Berlin, where police said 15,000 people rallied Saturday on Alexander Square, protesters chanted Floyd’s name and held up placards with slogans such as “Stop police brutality” and “I can’t breathe.”

Some 20,000 others rallied in Munich, while thousands more took part in protests in Frankfurt and Cologne. In Paris, several thousand demonstrators ignored a protest ban — issued due to the coronavirus pandemic — and assembled within sight of the U.S. Embassy,

In London, tens of thousands staged a rally outside Parliament Square, invoking Floyd’s memory as well as people who died during police encounters or indifference in Britain. Many dropped to one knee and raised their fists in the air outside the gleaming U.S. embassy building. There were chants of “Silence is violence!” and “Color is not a crime!”

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Follow more AP stories on the George Floyd protests and reaction at https://apnews.com/GeorgeFloyd

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