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Fears Covid could scupper EU trade deal talks
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Fears Covid could scupper EU trade deal talks
Brexit negotiators fear the crunch trade talks could be scuppered by rising Covid-19 cases. Amid soaring levels of coronavirus infections in Brussels, where detailed talks are taking place this weekend, officials are concerned that the negotiations could collapse if any senior figures test positive for the disease, leading to key negotiators having to isolate. The talks are now centred on draft legal texts of a post-Brexit trade agreement. Officials believe that the negotiations are now at a stage that is too complex to be effectively conducted by video conference - with less than two weeks thought to be remaining to agree a deal. The talks are being held according to social distancing rules. But a source close to the negotiations said: "Covid-19 is causing a lot of worry. If one person in a senior team catches it you can see a situation where we cannot do it any more." Belgium had the highest rate of infections in the EU as of Friday, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Over the last fortnight there were 1,609 confirmed infections per 100,000 inhabitants – an increase of 186 per cent compared with the two weeks before. In England, the latest figures suggest a rate of 229 infections per 100,000 people. On Friday, Belgium closed all non-essential shops and banned homes from receiving visitors, except for a single "cuddle contact". Trade talks are expected to continue through the weekend following negotiations in London. The negotiations could then switch back to the UK on Wednesday, despite rising infection rates in the capital. On Friday Mr Barnier tweeted: "After seven days of intensive negotiations in London, talks continue. Working hard for an agreement. Much remains to be done." Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said that this weekend's talks would focus on devising an enforceable "level playing field" system with dispute resolution mechanisms. The EU is insisting that the UK follows a "level playing field" of rules and regulations in exchange for access to the bloc's single market. Britain had previously rejected any enforceable guarantees, insisting instead on commitments similar to those in the EU's trade deal with Canada. A senior German government official said on Friday that he was "deeply concerned" about the lack of progress in trade talks given the heavy reliance of German companies on funding in the City of London.
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