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EU crumbling: Panic grows over ‘second Brexit in Italy’ – German minister issues warning

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Cash-strapped Italy was one of the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic and was enraged by what is saw as a lack of support from Brussels. Even pro-EU politicians were left questioning their country’s future within the bloc amid growing calls from nationalist parties to quit.

We must face the reconstruction of Europe in a sustainable way or we risk another Brexit in Italy

Markus Söder

Markus Söder, president of Germany’s Christian Socialist Union and leader of Bavaria, acknowledged the EU’s failings and said things had to change.

He said: “We must face the reconstruction of Europe in a sustainable way or we risk another Brexit in Italy.

“The EU is the best idea that has ever emerged on the European continent but now we have to reinvent it and adapt it to the challenges of our time.

“Not only the coronavirus crisis, but also nationalism is spreading. We therefore need a new spirit of cohesion in Europe.”

He continued: “We must tackle the reconstruction of Europe quickly and sustainably.

“We shouldn’t fall back into old patterns of behaviour and reflexes. Europe needs a new big momentum.”

Mr Soder warned the EU would eventually collapse if richer states failed to help countries particularly affected by the coronavirus.

He said: “When Germany helps Italy and Spain, we help ourselves – not only economically, but also politically and culturally. Because we are all over Europe.

“The disintegration of Europe and therefore of the internal market would be the greatest risk.

“We can already see what economic loss we have because of the coronavirus, just because the logistical chains of southern Europe are not working.

“If we hesitate now or underestimate the psychological impact, there is a risk of a second Brexit in Italy.

“A Europe without Italy or Spain is no longer a Europe as we know it. So the EU would no longer make sense.

“Many did not think Britain was serious but Brexit is now underway.

“I still can’t imagine a strong Europe without Britain. But without Italy, little remains of the original idea.

“The Treaty of Rome was the basis of the EU. Italy is the cultural and historical heart of Europe.”

Mr Soder acknowledged Italy had been deeply affected by the coronavirus crisis.

He said: “We cannot simply leave the country to populists like Matteo Salvini.

“What happens in Italy affects all of us. Therefore, it is better to help them than to walk away and end up contemplating the pieces of Europe.

“Europe faces an important historic crossroads. Therefore, we cannot fail.”

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His comments echo those of billionaire financier George Soros who also warned the future of the EU was in jeopardy.

He said: “I am particularly concerned about Italy. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega party, is agitating for the country to leave the euro and the EU.

“Fortunately, his personal popularity has declined since he left the government, but his advocacy is gaining momentum.

“What would be left of Europe without Italy? Italy used to be the most pro-European country.”

He said splits began to appear when Brussels failed to offer adequate support to Rome at the height of the Meditrannean migrant crisis and then gave it a slap in the face by relaxing state aid rules to the benefit of richer nations such as Germany.

The EU response to the coronavirus pandemic has been the final straw for many Italian voters who see their country being punished by Brussels for a crisis that was not its fault.

Mr Soros said: “Italians trusted Europe more than their own governments, and with good reason.

“But they were badly treated during the refugee crisis of 2015. The EU enforced the so-called Dublin Regulations that put all the burden on the countries where refugees first landed and did not offer any financial burden sharing.

“That is when Italians decide to vote for Salvini’s Lega and the Five Star Movement in a landslide.

“More recently, the relaxation of state aid rules, which favour Germany, has been particularly unfair to Italy, which was already the sick man of Europe and then the hardest hit by COVID-19.”

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China PANICS: Warning Beijing is lashing out and risking war because it fears IRRELEVANCE

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Chris Patten said Chinese President Xi Jinping is so nervous about the position of the Communist Party that he is risking a new Cold War and imperiling Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s preeminent financial hub. Lord Patten said Xi’s “thuggish” crackdown in Hong Kong could trigger an outflow of capital and people from the city which funnels the bulk of foreign direct investment into mainland China.

“What does it mean? It means serious question marks not just about Hong Kong’s future as a free society but also about Hong Kong’s ability to continue as probably the premier international financial hub in Asia,” Lord Patten said in an interview.

“A lot of people will try to leave Hong Kong,” Lord Patten said, adding he feared capital would also flow out of the territory which Britain handed back to China in 1997.

The West, he said, should stop being naive about Xi.

“We have long since passed the stage where, without wanting another Cold War, we have to react to the fact Xi seems to want one himself, seems to want to be able to bully his way to whatever he thinks China wants,” Patten said.

Patten, now 76, watched as the British flag was lowered over Hong Kong when the colony was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule – imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War.

Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In some of his toughest rhetoric yet, this week US President Donald Trump said Beijing had broken its word over Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy by proposing new national security legislation and the territory no longer warranted US economic privileges.

“We will take action to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China,” Mr Trump said, adding that Washington would also impose sanctions on individuals seen as responsible for “smothering – absolutely smothering – Hong Kong’s freedom.”

Mr Trump told reporters at the White House that China’s move on Hong Kong was a tragedy for the world, but he gave no timetable for the moves, leaving Hong Kong residents, businesses and officials to ponder just how far his administration will go.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said Saturday marked “a sad day” for China’s freest city.

“This is an emotional moment for Americans in Hong Kong and it will take companies and families a while to digest the ramifications,” AmCham President Tara Joseph said in a statement.

“Many of us … have deep ties to this city and with Hong Kong people. We love Hong Kong and it’s a sad day,” she said, adding the chamber would continue to work with its members to maintain Hong Kong’s status as a vital business centre.

China’s parliament this week approved a decision to create laws for Hong Kong to curb sedition, secession, terrorism and foreign interference. 

Mainland security and intelligence agents may be stationed in the city for the first time, with critics saying these moves put the city’s extensive freedoms at risk.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong insist the legislation will target only a small number of “troublemakers” who threaten China’s national security. 

They say such action is urgently needed after months of sometimes violent anti-government protests rocked the city last year.

Protests are simmering again as Hong Kong emerges from its coronavirus shutdown, with demonstrators expected to take to the streets on Sunday.

Trump did not name any sanctions targets but said the announcement would “affect the full range of agreements we have with Hong Kong”, including the US-Hong Kong extradition treaty to export controls on dual-use technologies and more “with few exceptions”.

China’s Global Times, published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said Trump’s decision was a “recklessly arbitrary” step.

The Hong Kong government has had a long history of working ties with US counterparts, distinct from Beijing, with cooperation on counter-terrorism, trade and money laundering.

More than 1,300 US firms have offices in Hong Kong and provide about 100,000 jobs. 

In the past decade, the US trade surplus with Hong Kong has been the biggest among all its trading partners, totalling $297 billion from 2009 to 2018.

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UK to allow thousands of Hong Kong residents to move to Britain if China passes THIS law

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The UK will allow thousands to move to Britain if China presses ahead with plans to reduce the territory’s level of autonomy. The Chinese rubber-stamp parliament has signed off on a new “national security” law for Hong Kong, which will be imposed without the approval of its democratically elected assembly.

The governments of the UK, USA, Australia and Canada have issued a joint statement warning that “the rights of Hong Kong people” are under threat from the new “national security” law.

The law targets “sedition” and “subversion”.

People in Hong Kong fear the legislation will be used to criminalise the pro-independence movement and prevent people from protesting in favour of democratic reform.

In a joint statement, the UK, USA, Australia and Canada expressed “deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong”.

They added: “China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration.

“The proposed law would undermine the One Country, Two Systems framework.

“It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people.”

Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab has warned that if China does not withdraw the law, the UK will change the rules for 169,000 holders of British National (Overseas) passports, issued to Hong Kong residents at the time of the handover in 1997.

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Currently these passports do not convey the right to live or work in Britain, beyond a six-month stay in the country as a visitor.

However, this could be set to change if the law goes through.

Mr Raab said: “If China goes down this path and implements this national security legislation, we will be required to change the status of BNO passport holders and set in train arrangements which allow them to come to the UK for longer than the current six-month period and to apply for extendable periods of 12 months to work and study, which itself will provide a passport to citizenship.”

The move is likely to anger the Chinese government, amid mounting tensions between China and the western countries over the coronavirus crisis.

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China is known to view any Western assistance to Hong Kong as interference in its internal affairs.

China and the UK signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1997, guaranteeing substantial autonomy to Hong Kong for at least 50 years.

Campaigners have welcomed the UK’s decision to widen the rights of BNO passport holders..

Johnny Patterson of Hong Kong Watch said: “I hope this will be an important first step by the UK Government in robustly standing up for the Joint Declaration with international partners.”

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael called on the Government to go further and grant the passport to all Hong Kong residents, not just those who were able to apply for it before 1997.

The news comes as a Chinese city with 2.8million residents has been hit with a fresh wave of coronavirus cases all coming from an “unknown source”.

Officials in China are currently working to uncover the source of a new cluster of cases in the north-eastern city of Mudanjian.

The city, located in Heilongjiang province, has recorded a total of 11 domestic infections with no symptoms in the past three days.

The Heilongjiang Provincial Health Commission reported that the new cases have prompted local authorities to shut down public transport, with railway and coach stations closed yesterday.

Domestic and international flights have all been cancelled.

Now, schools and classes have been suspended with students sent home.

The city government has yet to release an official notice to seal off all residential complexes.

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China coronavirus panic: City of 2.8m gripped by ‘mysterious’ new outbreak

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Officials in China are working to uncover the source of a new cluster of coronavirus cases in a north-eastern city. The city of Mudanjiang in
Heilongjiang province has recorded a total of 11 domestic infections with no symptoms in the past three days.

The new cases have prompted local authorities to shut down public transport, with railway and coach stations closed yesterday.

Domestic and international flights have all been cancelled.

Now, schools and classes have been suspended with students sent home.

The city government has yet to release an official notice to seal off all residential complexes.

However, online posts from citizens have claimed that their compounds were put under isolation.

Local health authorities reported the cluster’s first two cases on Tuesday.

A local couple contracted the killer bug from an unknown source that officials are still trying to track down.

The residential complex where the couple lived has been sealed off, with no outsider allowed to enter, according to Chinese media.

The city of Mudanjiang is situated in a north-eastern Chinese region of over 100million people, Dongbei, which has been ravaged by the deadly disease after two cities went into Wuhan-style lockdown this month.

On Wednesday, Mudanjiang officials reported five more asymptomatic patients.

Another four new infections were reported by the local authorities yesterday.

The nine infected residents were said to have had close contact with the couple who first contracted the deadly virus, according to official statements.

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Authorities said that the first two patients were detected while local officials were conducting coronavirus screening in the city.

A video released by Pear Video today shows the city’s airport empty with shut doors as a staff member said that all flights had been cancelled with no confirmed dates of when flights will resume.

This comes after the provincial capital of Heilongjiang, Harbin city, adopted draconian quarantine measures in late April.

This was after the are reported more than 70 infections.

The virus was believed to have been brought into the city by a student who had returned from New York.

Growing fears of a second wave have been fuelled in the vast region with 108million residents after two cities from the area went under Wuhan-style lockdown earlier on this month.

Shulan, a city of 700,000 people located in Jilin province, has been under lockdown since May 9 after reporting 12 COVID-19 cases in the space of two days.

Four days later, the city of Jilin, with a population of more than four million, shut its borders and suspended public transport after reporting six new cases, all linked to the infection cluster in Shulan.

The city has reported at least 43 infections, all linked to the same source, a local laundry worker.

But it continues to remain unknown how she first contracted the bug.

According to Jilin officials, a total of twenty COVID-19 patients are being treated at local hospitals.

Two deaths have been reported according to the latest figures.

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Kim Jong-un unmasked: How friends exposed what North Korean dictator is REALLY like

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Despite Kim Jong-un being at the helm of North Korea for eight years, relatively little is known about his rule and the goings-on inside the state remain a mystery to the outside world. Details about Kim’s life are so heavily guarded that even his date of birth – supposedly January 8, 1982 – is still unconfirmed. The secret life of Kim Jong-un sparked so much intrigue that eventually accounts from those who were close to him began to emerge – including his best friend from school, his former sushi chef and statements from defectors. Maintaining an extreme level of privacy remains a common theme of the Kim dynasty, most recently highlighted by no details emerging to explain the leader’s two disappearances from the public eye over the last few months. Kim Jong-un’s whereabouts during both of those three-week absences remain unknown. Even after it was speculated that he was “gravely ill”, “brain dead” or had died during “botched” surgery to fit a stent in his heart, no official statements were made to give any clarification. Despite the many mysteries of the leader’s life so far, those who have been able to spend time with him have been able to reveal important details that help us understand the man he is today.

Kim Jong-un was reported to have attended Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school, in Switzerland from 1998 to 2001, but was known under the alias ‘Pak Un’.

His friend Joao Micaelo, who buddied up with him on his first day, initially dismissed the rare, candid admission that he would someday be the rule of North Korea.

He claimed to have been the “best friend” of the future leader when they were 16 and at first described him as a “normal guy” during a 2010 interview with CNN.

Mr Micaelo said: “He played basketball, he had basketball games on his Playstation. The whole world for him was just basketball all the time.

“He was competitive at sports. He didn’t like to lose, like any of us. For him, basketball was everything.”

This passion for the sport and extreme competitiveness was likely what led him to spark a bizarre friendship with former US NBA star Dennis Rodman – who featured in Netflix show ‘The Last Dance’.

The sportsman, who was notoriously known for his ruthless antics on the court, was invited to holiday with Kim Jong-un at one of his luxury villas in Wonsan, back in 2013.

Mr Rodman said: “Everything is just like five-star, six-star, seven-star. It’s just a great day every day. 

“There was so much entertainment, so much fun, just so much relaxation. Everything was just so, so perfect.”

Despite Kim Jong-un’s lavish lifestyle and partying with the celebrities today, during his school years he was known to be a “loner” who “absolutely avoided contact with girls”.

This was further compounded by Mr Micaelo’s claims that the future leader didn’t go out at night and rarely, if ever, attended parties or discos. 

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He said: “He was very quiet and he didn’t speak with anyone. Maybe it was because most of the people did not take the time to understand him.

“And he was not that type of guy who goes to another and says, ‘Hello, how are you?’ He was always quiet.”

Trust in only a small handful of people is a theme that has continued, with only his inner circle and sister Kim Yo-jong privy to his thoughts and discussions.

These characteristics described by those who knew him, mirror the theories held by Chris Mikul, who penned the 2019 book ‘My Favourite Dictators’.

He believes that Kim Jong-un could be the nation’s most progressive leader to date despite enforcing his rule with brutal executions, torture and other actions.

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Mr Mikul told Express.co.uk: “He is different because he was schooled outside of North Korea, Kim Jong-il barely left and essentially was exposed to western culture more than most because he was a film buff. 

“Kim Jong-un spent a lot of years in Switzerland where he became westernised, he loved video games and basketball so you can see why there is a big difference between them.

“To me there are a lot of signs that he is a more benevolent character than father and grandfather, he has more concern for welfare of people and the economy.

“He’s known for putting on concerts, one showed a woman dressed in a Disney costume, which never would have happened under Kim Jong-il.”

While Mr Mikul believes that Kim Jong-un is “different at heart” from his predecessors, he maintains that the leader still remains a “brutal dictator”.

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EU’s £670bn power grab: VDL to demand sweeping tax powers to fund COVID19 rescue TODAY

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The European Commission President wants to borrow up to €500 billion to bailout pandemic-stricken regions and industries. In a move towards a full-blown European superstate, the German will propose a series of new EU taxation powers to help fund her spending plans. Brussels would take charge of borrowing cash from international markets before deciding where handouts are made available as grants.

Mrs von der Leyen’s strategy has whipped up controversy with some member states demanding a shift towards low-cost loans and attaching strict political conditions for accessing the fund.

Most of the cash is expected to be directed towards Italy and Spain, the EU’s worst-hit countries during the pandemic.

Under the plans drawn up by the Commission, future green taxes on airlines and shipping companies and an EU-wide plastics tax.

Setting out her blueprint to the European Parliament, Mrs von der Leyen will say Brussels should also be allowed to tap into revenues from carbon duties on all imports into the Continent.

A new digital tax could see an “operations” rate slapped on companies with a turnover larger than €752 million.

Member states will also be expected to drastically increase their budget contributions to pay for the EU’s new tax and spend ambitions.

Before the plans can be rolled out, they must receive unanimous backing from European capitals.

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World War 3: Russia accuses USA of destroying global stability in scathing attack

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Washington felt it was “exclusive” and did not have to abide by the carefully negotiated legal framework designed to prevent conflict.

Why are they doing that? They have explained many times – they feel they are exclusive

Maria Zakharova

US President Donald Trump announced last week that Washington planned to withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies Treaty that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries to monitor military activities.

He blamed the move, which comes into effect in six months, on Russia’s failure to stick to the terms of the treaty. Moscow rejected the allegations as completely groundless.

Some allies fear a US exit from Open Skies, which will halt Russian overflights of the United States, could prompt Moscow to follow suit.

This would bring an end to overflights of Russia by the remaining members, weakening European security at a time when Russian-backed separatists hold parts of Ukraine and Georgia.

The US move also casts doubt on whether Washington will seek to extend the 2010 New START accord, which imposes the last remaining limits on US and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear arms to no more than 1,550 each. The accord expires next February.

She said: “Strategic stability and all the documents supporting it, which set legal framework for activities and countries’ actions, have been systematically wrecked by the United States.

“The ABM Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the refusal to ratify treaties on nuclear tests, and now the Treaty on Open Skies.”

She continued: “The only thing left is the New START Treaty. It is probably the last thing left.

“So, these are not mere words, these are facts that show that the United States is willfully ruining the system of strategic stability.

“Why are they doing that? They have explained many times – they feel they are exclusive.”

NATO allies have told the US officials they are uneasy about the planned withdrawal from Open Skies.

Defence ministers from members states agreed “on the importance of arms control, and on the need to bring Russia back to compliance”.

A NATO official said: “A number of allies expressed concern that the US may be leaving the treaty.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia had for many years “imposed flight restrictions inconsistent with the treaty, including flight limitations over Kaliningrad, and restricting flights in Russia near its border with Georgia”.

He said: “Russia’s ongoing selective implementation has undermined the Open Skies Treaty.”

Mr Stoltenberg said he hoped Washington would reconsider its withdrawal if Russia respected the treaty’s terms, and said NATO allies were engaging with Moscow to seek its early return to compliance.

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Capital cities quiz questions and answers: 15 questions for your home pub quiz

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Capital cities often elude people when themed questions debut on a pub quiz, with many countries having shifted location or names over the years. As such, while most of them are common knowledge, they provide quiz composers with a chance to misdirect people.

15 capital city questions and answers for a home pub quiz

Capital city questions can make for a curious shift in theme for a pub quiz.

They are also versatile, incorporating elements of architecture, history and even anthropology.

Here, we have curated a selection of some of the trickiest capital city questions on cities from around the world.

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  • Friday quiz! Test your general knowledge in Express.co.uk’s puzzle

1. Which city did Ankara replace as Turkish capital in 1923?

1. Constantinople

2. What is the capital city of Ankara?

2. Antananarivo

3. What is the capital of Australia?

3. Canberra

4. What was the capital of ancient Persia?

4. Babylon

5. What is the capital city of Hong Kong?

5. Trick question, there isn’t one

6. What is the capital city of Switzerland?

6. Bern

7. Which city was chosen as the capital city of Wessex in 1519?

7. Winchester

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  • Travel quiz questions and answers: 15 questions for your home pub quiz

8. What was the capital city of Russia in 1917?

8. Petrograd

9. What is the capital of New Zealand?

9. Wellington

10. Which city was the first capital of Egypt?

10. Memphis

11. Which ancient capital city was named after Alexander the Great’s horse?

11. Bucephala

12. What is the capital of Brazil?

12. Brasilia

13. What is the capital of Cornwall?

13. Truro

14. What is the capital of Montenegro?

14. Podgorica

15. What is the capital of Poland?

15. Warsaw

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Politics

Lockdown POLL: Should Dominic Cummings resign after claims he broke lockdown rules? VOTE

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The No10 adviser was spotted at his parents’ home in Durham, 260 miles from London, in early April after he developed coronavirus symptoms. A joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian found that he made the journey from London to Durham during the height of the lockdown shortly after he was seen running out of Downing Street when Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus in late March. Mr Johnson had told people they “must stay at home” in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Police are understood to have been notified of Mr Cummings presence at the Durham property by a member of the public.

Durham Constabulary have confirmed officers contacted the homeowners about the matter, but Downing Street has said neither Mr Cummings nor his parents were spoken to by police.

A spokesman for the force told the Guardian: “On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said the aide’s position was “completely untenable”.

He said: “He must resign or be sacked.”

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for Mr Cummings to quit over the allegations.

A spokesman for Labour said: “The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings.”

As the news broke on Saturday morning, Downing Street issued a statement vehemently denying Mr Cummings had flouted lockdown rules.

They said the No10 adviser had travelled up north with his child but had not stayed with his parents’.

The statement read: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.

“His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed.

“His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.

“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.

“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines.

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“Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”

The development will not doubt irritate the public who have been in lockdown for two months.

Millions are facing their ninth weekend under strict measures and some will have no choice but to spend the bank holiday weekend apart from family members.

The Guardian reported that Mr Cummings, 48, was spotted near the gate of his parents’ home with a young child – believed to be his son – at around 5.45pm on Sunday April 5.

The sighting is said to have happened five days after police received a report about Mr Cummings in Durham.

Hours after he was allegedly seen on April 5, Mr Johnson was admitted to hospital suffering from coronavirus.

An unnamed neighbour said they saw Mr Cummings in the garden of his parents’ home five days after police are believed to have contacted the family on March 31.

They said Abba’s Dancing Queen was playing loudly.

They said: “I got the shock of my life, as I looked over to the gates and saw him.

“I recognised Dominic Cummings, he’s a very distinctive figure.”

Mr Johnson is being pressured to sack Mr Cummings over the matter.

Downing Street previously confirmed that Mr Cummings had started displaying coronavirus symptoms “over the weekend” of March 28 and 29.

Even before the lockdown, Mr Johnson set out a stark warning to the nation, saying on March 16 that “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact and to stop all non-essential travel”.

Lockdown questions continue to bombard the Government with the Prime Minister facing pressure to sack his closest aide after it emerged that he travelled to his parents’ home despite coronavirus-related restrictions.

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China accuses Trump of ‘shirking’ responsibilities as US President threatens to leave WHO

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There has been a recent eruption of a war of words between the US and China as President Trump has accused Beijing of covering up the outbreak of COVID-19 in central China last year. President Trump has now written an open letter to WHO warning if they do not change, he will stop any US funding and reconsider the country’s membership.

More than 318,000 people have died of coronavirus since it spread across the globe with the US being the worse affected country with more than 90,000 deaths.

China has urged the US to focus on controlling the virus rather than shifting the blame.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “The US leader’s open letter you mentioned is full of hints, ‘perhaps’, and ‘maybes’, and tries to use specious methods to mislead the public, and achieve the goals of smearing China’s anti-virus efforts, and shirk responsibility for the United States’ own insufficient response.

“The US tries to use China as an issue to shirk responsibility and bargain over its international obligations to the WHO.

“This is a miscalculation and the US has picked the wrong target.”

He added the US was simply trying to deflect from how Washington has responded to the virus and its “insufficient prevention and control”.

The WHO has agreed to launch an investigation into its coronavirus response after President Trump said he would leave the organisation, which he accused of being a “puppet of China”.

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President Trump has also accused WHO of not doing enough to control the disease.

He said at the White House: “They are a puppet of China, they are China-centric to put it nicer.”

Beijing has denied any allegations they have ever played down the threat of the virus and said their response has been “open, transparent and responsible”.

President Trump’s open letter to WHO has demanded it is independent from China.

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He said: “If WHO does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding and reconsider out membership in the organisation.”

The European Union has said it backs the WHO and its efforts to fight the coronavirus after President Trump threatened to pull out of the agency.

The EU’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said: “This is the time for solidarity, not the time for finger pointing or for undermining multilateral cooperation.”

WHO countries have now voted for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response of the pandemic.

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