Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules

Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules
Members of the media walk inside the ancient Colosseum during a press preview for the reopening of the museum, in Rome, Monday, June 1, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 01 June 2020

Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules

Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules
  • Countries around the Mediterranean Sea tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask in their famously sunny beaches
  • Around 6.19 million infections have been reported worldwide, with over 372,000 people dying, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University

ROME: The first day of June saw coronavirus restrictions ease from Asia to Europe on Monday, even as US protests against police brutality sparked fears of new outbreaks. The Colosseum opened its ancient doors in Rome, ferries restarted in Bangladesh, golfers played in Greece, students returned in Britain and Dutch bars and restaurants were free to welcome hungry, thirsty patrons.
Countries around the Mediterranean Sea tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask in their famously sunny beaches while still being protected by social distancing measures from a virus that is marching relentlessly around the world.
“We are reopening a symbol. A symbol of Rome, a symbol for Italy,” said Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum’s archaeological park. “(We are) restarting in a positive way, with a different pace, with a more sustainable tourism.”
Greece lifted lockdown measures Monday for hotels, campsites, open-air cinemas, golf courses and public swimming pools, while b eaches and museums reopened in Turkey and bars, restaurants, cinemas and museums came back to life in the Netherlands.
“Today, we opened two rooms and tomorrow three. It’s like building an anthill,” Athens hotel owner Panos Betis said as employees wearing face masks tidied a rooftop restaurant and cleaned a window facing the ancient Acropolis. “We can’t compare the season to last year. We were at 95% capacity. Our aim now is to hang in there till 2021.”
A long line of masked visitors snaked outside the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, as they reopened for the first time in three months. Italy is eager to reboot its tourism industry, which accounts for 13% of its economy.
The Vatican Museums’ famous keyholder — the “clavigero” who holds the keys to all the galleries on a big ring on his wrist — opened the gate in a sign both symbolic and literal that the Museums were back in business.
Still, strict crowd control measures were in place at both landmarks: visitors needed reservations to visit, their temperatures were taken before entering and masks were mandatory.
“Having the opportunity to see the museums by making a booking and not having to wait in line for three hours is an opportunity,” said visitor Stefano Dicozzi.
The Dutch relaxation of coronavirus rules took place on a major holiday with the sun blazing, raising immediate fears of overcrowding in popular beach resorts. The new rules let bars and restaurants serve up to 30 people inside if they keep social distancing, but there’s no standing at bars and reservations are necessary.
Britain, which with over 38,500 dead has the world’s second-worst death toll behind the United States, eased restrictions despite warnings from health officials that the risk of spreading COVID-19 was still too great. Some elementary classes reopened in England and people could now have limited contact with family and friends, but only outdoors and with social distancing.
In Asia, Bangladesh restarted bus, train, ferry and flight services Monday, hoping that a gradual reopening revives an economy in which millions have become jobless. Traffic jams and crowds of commuters clogged Manila as the Philippines tried to kickstart its economy.
Around 6.19 million infections have been reported worldwide, with over 372,000 people dying, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true death toll is believed to be significantly higher, since many died without ever being tested.
In the US, the often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer, are raising fears of new outbreaks in a country that has more confirmed infections and deaths than any other.
The US has seen nearly 1.8 million infections and over 104,000 deaths in the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected racial minorities in a nation that does not have universal health care.
Protests over Floyd’s death have shaken the US from New York to Los Angeles. Demonstrators are packed cheek by jowl, many without masks, many shouting or singing. The virus itself is dispersed by microscopic droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze, talk or sing.
“There’s no question that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity, when we have got this virus all over the streets ... it’s not healthy,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said.
Some efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus are being upended by the protests. In contact tracing, newly infected people list everyone they’ve interacted with over several days in order to alert them that they may have been exposed. That may be a daunting task if someone has been to a mass gathering.
The process also relies on something that may suddenly be in especially short supply: Trust in government.
South Korea and India offered cautionary tales Monday about just how hard it is to halt the virus.
South Korea reported a steady rise in cases around Seoul. Hundreds of infections have been linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul. The resurgence is straining the country’s ability to test patients and trace their contacts.
“We have been seeing an increased number of high-risk patients who have been infected through family members or religious gatherings,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There’s a particular need for people over 65, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions to be alert.”
Incheon, a port city west of Seoul, said Monday it’s considering banning gatherings at 4,200 churches and other religious facilities.
In India, cases increased rapidly but it still eased restrictions Monday on shops and public transport in more states. Subways and schools remain closed as experts said India is still far from reaching the peak of its outbreak. The government eased the lockdown to help millions of day laborers who have lost their jobs and are unable to feed their families.
China, where the global pandemic is believed to have originated late last year, reported 16 new cases Monday, all travelers from abroad. Much of China has already reopened for business and Monday saw classes restart in middle and high schools. Kindergartners and fourth- and fifth-graders will be allowed back next week.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says China has pledged to make available 30 million COVID-19 testing kits per month to African countries, which are facing a shortage.
Japan started blood tests Monday to check what percentage of its people have developed antibodies, a sign of past coronavirus infections. The tests will be conducted on 10,000 randomly selected people in three areas including Tokyo and results are expected at the end of the month.


UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed

UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed
Updated 06 March 2021

UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed

UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed
  • Myanmar has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1
  • More than 50 protesters have been killed, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener tells UN Security Council

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations special envoy on Myanmar called on the UN Security Council to take action against the ruling junta after the killings of protesters who have continued to defy security forces at demonstrations against last month’s coup.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with daily protests and strikes that have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More than 50 protesters have been killed according to the United Nations — at least 38 on Wednesday alone. Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election, which her party won in landslide, but which the army rejected.
“How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?” Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told a closed meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council on Friday, according to a copy of her remarks seen by Reuters.
“It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results.”
A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.
The army says it has been restrained in stopping the protests, but has said it will not allow them to threaten stability.
On Saturday, in the southern town of Dawei, protesters chanted “Democracy is our cause” and “The revolution must prevail.” Protesters were also gathering in the biggest city, Yangon.
People have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands at times, vowing to continue action in a country that spent nearly half a century under military rule until democratic reforms in 2011 that were cut short by the coup.
“Political hope has begun to shine. We can’t lose the momentum of the revolution,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook. “Those who dare to fight will have victory. We deserve victory.”
At least one man was killed by security forces in protests on Friday. An official from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and his teenage nephew were also stabbed to death by military supporters, local media reported.

Outrage
The killing of protesters has drawn international outrage.
“Use of violence against the people of Myanmar must stop now,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a tweet, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and for the restoration of democracy.
The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta and independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, has called for a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions.
But in an effort to preserve council unity on Myanmar, diplomats said sanctions were unlikely to be considered anytime soon as such measures would probably be opposed by China and Russia, which have veto powers.
“All parties should exercise utmost calm and restraint,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said, according to remarks released after the UN meeting. “We don’t want to see instability, even chaos in Myanmar.”
The army took power over allegations of fraud in last year’s election which had been dismissed by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election at an unspecified date.
That plan is rejected by protesters and by a group representing lawmakers elected at the last election that has begun to issue statements in the name of a rival civilian administration.
On Friday, it listed four demands — the end of the junta, the release of the detainees, democracy and the abolition of the 2008 constitution which left significant political representation and control in the hands of the military.
Instead, it said Myanmar should have a federal constitution — an appeal to the ethnic groups in the country’s borderlands which have chafed under domination of the Bamar majority both under the military and Suu Kyi’s party.
On Friday, thousands of people rallied in the southeastern Karen state, accompanied by fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the ethnic armed groups engaged in long-running wars.
During the rally — the strongest indication yet of support for the anti-coup movement from one of the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups — KNU troops flashed the three-finger salute popularized by protesters and handed out water bottles.


American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’
Updated 06 March 2021

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’
  • The 737 MAX was Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until it was grounded over a faulty flight handling system

NEW YORK: An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX jet flying to Newark, New Jersey from Miami landed safely on Friday after pilots shut down an engine during the flight, the US air safety regulator said.
The MAX returned to skies in the United States late last year after it was grounded worldwide in March 2019 following two deadly crashes.
In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said “pilots reported shutting down an engine in flight” but the plane was able to taxi to its gate on its own power, and the agency will investigate the incident.
American Airlines confirmed to AFP that the issue was related to an engine oil pressure issue and not the faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which was implicated in the crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
“All customers deplaned normally, with no reported injuries to passengers or crew,” American Airlines said.
The 737 MAX was a big hit with airlines, becoming Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until its grounding, which forced the manufacturer to revamp MCAS and implement new pilot training protocols.
The grounding plunged the American aviation giant into crisis, which was exacerbated by the global downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and airlines canceled hundreds of orders for the plane.


Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight
Updated 06 March 2021

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight
  • Joe Biden's overall bill is aimed at battling the killer pandemic
  • It also aims to nurse the staggered economy back to health
WASHINGTON: Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal late Friday over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a nine-hour logjam that had stalled the party’s showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation.
The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
The Senate next faced votes on a pile of amendments that were likely to last overnight, mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes.
More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would ship it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and whisk it to Biden for his signature.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports the compromise on jobless payments.
The day’s lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities.
Manchin is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, and a kingmaker in a 50-50 Senate that leaves his party without a vote to spare. With Democrats also clinging to a mere 10-vote House edge, the party needs his vote but can’t tilt too far center without losing progressive support.
Aiding unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to trim some of the bill’s costs.
Biden noted Friday’s jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 workers — an unexpectedly strong showing. That’s still small compared to the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago.
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery.”
The overall bill faces a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with them.
“You could pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden.
But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans.
The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly jobless benefits — on top of regular state payments — through August. Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.
As the day began, Democrats asserted they’d reached a compromise between party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 weekly into early October.
That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, also included tax reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills.
But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top Senate Democrats and Manchin as the party tried finding a way to salvage its unemployment aid package.
The compromise announced Friday night would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 6, and includes the tax break on benefits.
Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years.
Eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.
That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and by 9 p.m. had not been formally gaveled to a close, as Senate work ground to a halt amid the unemployment benefit negotiations.
Republicans say the overall relief bill is a liberal spend-fest that ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy suggest that the twin crises are easing.
“Our country is already set for a roaring recovery,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in part citing an unexpectedly strong report on job creation. “Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.”
Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
“If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better,’” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”
Friday’s gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn’t the first delay on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced the chamber’s clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST.
Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill, designed to nail down support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs to funds for rural health care and language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states.
In another late bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to make some higher earners ineligible for the direct checks to individuals.

Man found Tiger Woods unconscious after SUV crash, says affidavit

Man found Tiger Woods unconscious after SUV crash, says affidavit
Updated 06 March 2021

Man found Tiger Woods unconscious after SUV crash, says affidavit

Man found Tiger Woods unconscious after SUV crash, says affidavit
  • An investigator has said Woods appeared to be in shock but was conscious and able to answer basic questions
  • It was the 10th surgery of his career and came two months after a fifth back surgery

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES, California: Tiger Woods was unconscious in a mangled SUV after he crashed the vehicle in Southern California last week, according to a court document that also revealed a nearby resident and not a sheriff’s deputy was first on the scene.
The witness, who lives near the accident scene in Rolling Hills Estates just outside Los Angeles, heard the crash and walked to the SUV, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Johann Schloegl wrote in the affidavit. The man told deputies that Woods had lost consciousness and did not respond to his questions.
The first deputy, Carlos Gonzalez, arrived minutes later the morning of Feb. 23 and has said Woods appeared to be in shock but was conscious and able to answer basic questions. Woods suffered severe injuries to his right leg and cuts to his face.
Woods told deputies — both at the wreckage and later at the hospital — that he did not know how the crash occurred and didn’t remember driving, according to the affidavit.
The document was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court as part of a statement of probable cause requesting that a search warrant be approved for the 2021 Genesis GV80 SUV’s data recorder, known as a black box. Schloegl requested data from Feb. 22 and Feb. 23.
“I believe the data will explain how/why the collision occurred,” Schloegl wrote.
Schloegl previously told USA Today that he did not seek a search warrant for Woods’ blood samples, which could be screened for drugs and alcohol. In 2017, Woods checked himself into a clinic for help dealing with prescription drug medication after a DUI charge in his home state of Florida.
A judge approved the search warrant for the data recorder. Sheriff’s representatives have declined to say what they have found on it.
“LASD is not releasing any further information at this time,” department spokesman Deputy Shawn Du Busky said in a statement Friday. “The traffic collision investigation is ongoing and traffic investigators continue to work to determine the cause of the collision.”
Deputies did not consult with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office regarding any search warrants in the Woods investigation, according to DA spokesman Greg Risling.
Experts say police can ask prosecutors if there is enough probable cause to seek a warrant, noting that it would be typical to do so in motor vehicle cases when there aren’t immediate signs of impairment but a detective believes there is reason to obtain a blood sample.
Rising declined further comment when asked whether LA prosecutors generally weigh in on such cases.
Woods is from the Los Angeles area and was back home to host his PGA tournament, the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, which ended two days before the crash.
He was driving an SUV loaned to him by the tournament when he struck a raised median around 7 a.m., crossed through two oncoming lanes and uprooted a tree. The crash occurred on a downhill stretch that police said is known for wrecks.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said Woods was driving alone in good weather, there was no evidence of impairment, and the crash was “purely an accident.” However, depending on what is found on the data recorder, Woods could face a misdemeanor driving charge or a traffic citation.
Dr. Andre Campbell, a trauma surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, said it’s not unusual for patients in major vehicle crashes to lose consciousness or experience memory lapses.
“A lot of times people will tell you, ‘I don’t remember what happened,’ ” he said, adding the memory loss may never return.
“This is a credit to modern engineering, really, that he’s alive,” said Campbell, who is not involved in Woods’ treatment and spoke generally about trauma patients.
The crash injured Woods’ right leg, requiring a lengthy surgery to stabilize shattered tibia and fibula bones. A combination of screws and pins were used for injuries in the ankle and foot.
It was the 10th surgery of his career and came two months after a fifth back surgery. Through it all, Woods has never gone an entire year without playing, dating back to his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old in high school.


US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say

US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say
Updated 06 March 2021

US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say

US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say
  • The figure represent an increase over a figure of 78,000 in January
  • Republicans have criticized Biden for rolling back Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, saying the shift will lead to more illegal immigration

WASHINGTON: US border agents detained nearly 100,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, according to two people familiar with preliminary figures, the highest monthly total since a major border surge in mid-2019.
The figures, which have not been previously reported, show the scope of a growing migrant influx at the southwest border as US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, seeks to roll back some of the restrictive policies of former President Donald Trump, a Republican. February was Biden’s first full month in office.
Last month’s total would represent the highest tally for the month of February since 2006. The sources who provided the figures to Reuters spoke on the condition of anonymity.
An increasing number of children arriving at the border without a parent or legal guardian has forced US officials in recent weeks to scramble for housing options and take steps to speed up their release to sponsors in the United States.
The nearly 100,000 migrants detained at the border in February represent an increase over a figure of 78,000 in January. February’s total appears to be the highest monthly number since June 2019 during a large border surge that Trump cited as justification for a broad immigration crackdown.
A US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said official statistics for last month likely will be released next week.
US Border Patrol agents caught more than 4,500 migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in a single day on Wednesday, according to government figures shared with Reuters, a sign that illegal entries could continue to rise in March.
Republicans have criticized Biden for rolling back Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, saying the shift will lead to more illegal immigration.
Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to Biden on Friday that requested a meeting to discuss the issue, saying he had “great concern” with the administration’s approach to border.
“We must acknowledge the border crisis, develop a plan, and, in no uncertain terms, strongly discourage individuals from Mexico and Central America from ever making the dangerous journey to our southern border,” McCarthy wrote in the letter.
The recidivism rate among migrants attempting to cross the border illegally increased over the past year under a Trump-era policy known as Title 42. That policy, issued on public health grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowed US authorities to rapidly expel migrants caught crossing. In some cases, migrants attempt to cross the border again.
Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the policy in February.