No UK easing date, China tightens travel
Students in the UK, France and Portugal are facing growing uncertainty about government restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic while Chinese authorities tighten travel regulations.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday it was too early to say when the coronavirus lockdown in England will end.
The country posted a fresh record in daily deaths on Wednesday for the second day running, figures Johnson has called "appalling".
A prevalence survey, known as REACT-1, suggested infections had not fallen in the first days of lockdown, although the government has said that the impact of restrictions introduced on January 5 was not yet reflected in the numbers.
"I think it's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of some of the restrictions," Johnson told broadcasters.
"What we're seeing in the ONS data, in the REACT survey, we're seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas. There's no doubt it does spread very fast indeed."
Earlier, education minister Gavin Williamson said he hoped schools would reopen by Easter and that they would have would have two weeks notice before restarting.
Ministers have appealed to people to stay at home as much as they can to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed and to give authorities time to roll out COVID-19 vaccines.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned students on Thursday to expect restrictions to remain in place for much of the rest of the 2020/21 academic year.
Macron was meeting a group of students at the Paris Saclay university to hear their complaints and concerns over issues raised by COVID-19 restrictions, such as feelings of loneliness and hits to the economy that have impacted job prospects.
"We will have a second semester that will have the virus and a lot of constraints," Macron said.
The Portuguese government held an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss closing the country's schools in a bid to halt a rising number of coronavirus cases.
The measures, which would include closing universities and day care centres, could enter effect as early as Friday, local media reported.
Calls are also being made to postpone the presidential elections that are currently set for Sunday.
Portugal had recorded a new daily record on Wednesday, at 14,647 confirmed cases within 24 hours.
The "particularly dramatic" figures, as Prime Minister Antonio Costa called them, continued on Thursday, with 13,544 new cases reported.
According to the Portuguese health authority, the UK variant of the virus currently accounts for 13 per cent of new infections.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Portugal had 1215 people per 100,000 residents infected with the coronavirus in a 14-day span.
Only two countries on the continent are worse off: Ireland, with 1444 people, and the Czech Republic with 1362 people.
Portugal has already been under a lockdown since last Friday.
Meanwhile, China is making some of its toughest travel restrictions yet as coronavirus cases surge in several northern provinces ahead of the travel rush for Lunar New Year.
Next month's festival is the most important time of the year for family gatherings and is often the only time many migrant workers are able to return to their rural homes.
However, any wishing to do so this year will need a negative virus test within the previous week and may face sometimes-onerous restrictions, including quarantines, in some communities.
The National Health Commission on Thursday reported an additional 126 cases of local transmission over the past 24 hours, the largest number, 68, in the northern province of Heilongjiang.
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