Britain reopens markets and some schools as lockdown eases

LONDON (Reuters) – English schools reopen on Monday for the first time since they were shut 10 weeks ago because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many parents planned to keep children at home amid fears ministers were moving too fast.

The easing of strict measures will mean classes will restart for some younger children, up to six people can meet outside in England, outdoor markets can reopen, elite competitive sport can resume without spectators and more than 2 million of the most vulnerable will now be allowed to spend time outdoors.

But with Britain recording one of the highest death rates from COVID-19, many are worried that it is happening too soon, including a number of scientists who advise the government who have warned it could lead to a second spike in infections.

“The overall view from SAGE – the scientific advisory group on emergencies which advises the government – their overall view is that we must do this cautiously and that is precisely what we are doing,” business minister Alok Sharma told BBC TV.

“These are very cautious steps that we are taking,” he said, while adding it was a “very sensitive moment”.

Ministers have been wrestling with how to kickstart the economy, which has been devastated by the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, while avoiding a possible second wave of infections which would cause further damage.

The government says the relaxation of rules on Monday represents only a limited easing but there has been concern that the country is still not ready for the changes, and that more people are beginning to ignore guidelines on social distancing.

A survey for the National Foundation for Educational Research found school leaders estimated 46% of parents would keep their children at home because of concerns, fears echoed by some health officials.

Britain has recorded more than 38,000 deaths from confirmed COVID-19 cases while the Office of National Statistics and other sources of data put the figure of fatalities from suspected and confirmed cases at 48,000.

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Violence erupts across US on sixth day of protests

Violence has erupted in cities across the US on the sixth night of protests sparked by the death in police custody of African-American George Floyd.

Curfews have been imposed in nearly 40 cities, but people have largely ignored them, leading to tense stand-offs.

Riot police clashed with protesters in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, firing tear gas and pepper bullets to try to disperse the crowds.

Police vehicles were set on fire and shops were looted in several cities.

The National Guard – the US reserve military force for domestic emergencies – said on Sunday that 5,000 of its personnel had been activated in 15 states and Washington, DC, where crowds once again gathered near the White House, this time lighting fires and throwing stones at riot officers.

“State and local law enforcement agencies remain responsible for security,” the National Guard added.

What’s the latest on the protests?

There were multiple instances of police vehicles being vandalised and set alight on Sunday. Riot officers continued to respond with tear gas and flash grenades.

In Philadelphia, local TV stations showed people smashing police cars and looting at least one store.

US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Law & Order in Philadelphia, NOW! They are looting stores. Call in our great National Guard”.

Looting was also reported in Santa Monica, California.

In Minneapolis, where Mr Floyd lost his life, a lorry driver was arrested after reportedly breaching a road barrier before speeding towards a crowd of protesters marching along a major highway.

Footage posted on social media showed dozens of people surrounding the vehicle and pulling the driver out from behind the wheel after it came to a stop.

The driver was later taken to hospital with minor injuries. There were no immediate reports of other casualties.

Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz said the motive of the driver was unclear, adding: “To not have tragedy and many deaths is simply an amazing thing.”

In Denver, thousands of people protested peacefully in Colorado State Capitol by lying face down with their hands behind their backs and chanting: “I can’t breathe.”

Large-scale protests also took place in Atlanta, Boston, Miami and Oklahoma City.

There were also several reported incidents of riot police responding disproportionately to the demonstrators. In Atlanta, Georgia, two officers were sacked on Sunday for using excessive force – including firing a taser – on two young college students.

The Floyd case has reignited US anger over police killings of black Americans. For many, the outrage also reflects years of frustration over socio-economic inequality and segregation, not least in Minneapolis itself.

Hundreds of people have been arrested since the protests began a week ago.

A white ex-policeman has been charged with murdering Mr Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis.

Derek Chauvin, 44, is due to appear in court later on Monday.

It follows the high-profile cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and others that have driven the Black Lives Matter movement.

For three years, Donald Trump presided over a nation of relative peace and prosperity. The crises he faced were largely of his own making, and he confronted them by rallying his supporters and condemning his opponents.

Now Trump faces a situation ill-suited to a playbook of division. The US economy has been hobbled by a deadly pandemic. George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer has spread racial unrest across the nation. The public is uncertain and afraid – and increasingly angry.

These are circumstances that would test the abilities of even the most skilful leaders. This president, however, risks becoming lost at sea. His public calls for unity and healing have been undermined by a penchant for Twitter name-calling and bellicosity. Message discipline, a valuable attribute at this moment, is not his forte.

There may be no easy way to guide the nation through its current peril. Barack Obama’s measured coolness did nothing to stop the fires of Ferguson any more than Richard Nixon’s law-and-order edicts quelled Vietnam-era unrest.

The economic and social devastation of the pandemic has created a political landscape of dry brush ignited by the lightning strike of Floyd’s death. The president may not be able to contain the wildfire, even if he isn’t feeding the flames.

What happened to George Floyd?

On the evening of Monday 25 May, police received a phone call from a neighbourhood grocery store alleging that George Floyd had paid with a counterfeit $20 note.

Officers were attempting to put him in a police vehicle when he dropped to the ground, telling them he was claustrophobic.

According to police, he physically resisted officers and was handcuffed. Video of the incident does not show how the confrontation started.

With Mr Chauvin’s knee on his neck, Mr Floyd can be heard saying “please, I can’t breathe” and “don’t kill me”.

According to a preliminary autopsy by the county medical examiner, the police officer had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds – almost three minutes of which was after Mr Floyd became non-responsive.

Nearly two minutes before Mr Chauvin removed his knee the other officers checked Mr Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and were unable to find one. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead around an hour later.

A lawyer for Mr Floyd’s family has accused Mr Chauvin of “premeditated murder”.

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Australia eases social distancing restrictions as economic recovery efforts intensify

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Several Australian states eased social distancing restrictions further on Monday, allowing restaurants to host more people and public attractions to reopen, as Canberra moves to revive the country’s ailing economy.

Australia has recorded about 7,200 coronavirus cases and 103 deaths, and with new infections now largely under control, it has embarked on a three-step plan to remove the bulk of curbs by July.

In Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), cafes and restaurants were allowed to cater for 50 seated patrons, while 20 guests will be allowed to attend a funeral. Both were previously limited to 10 people.

Public attractions, such as Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, art galleries, museums and libraries were also allowed to reopen.

In Victoria state, which has taken the most cautious approach to reopening, restaurants and cafes could reopen on Monday. However, patrons are restricted to a maximum of 20 people.

Australia hopes removing restrictions will boost economic growth, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said additional, targeted stimulus would be needed.

Australia’s government and central bank has pledged about A$250 billion ($167 billion) in stimulus, though the bulk of this is expected to end by September.

Morrison said his government is considering a plan to offer homeowners one-off grants for renovations, while federal infrastructure projects will be bought forward.

“A big part of coming out of the COVID-19 crisis is our infrastructure spending,” Morrison told 2GB Radio.

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Australia's stalled migrant boom derails golden economic run

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s three decades of uninterrupted prosperity are coming to an abrupt end as the global coronavirus pandemic crashes one of its most lucrative sources of income – immigration.

The country has been successful in managing the outbreak and reopening its A$2 trillion ($1.33 trillion) economy, thanks in part to an early closure of its borders.

But the policy has led to a halt in mass immigration – a key source of consumer demand, labour and growth – in an economy which is facing its first recession since the early 1990s.

Net immigration, including international students and those on skilled worker visas, is expected to fall 85% in the fiscal year to June 2021, curbing demand for everything from cars and property to education and wedding rings.

Gurmeet Tuli, who owns a jewellery store in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta, said his business is already hurting in a neighbourhood which is home to tens of thousands of migrants.

“My main clientele is young people who come here to study, they find work here and settle down, fall in love and want to get married,” Tuli said.

“I have not sold a single diamond ring in the past two months,” he added, noting business is down about 40% so far this year.

So critical is migration to Australia that analysts reckon the economy would have slipped into a recession last year without new arrivals to boost population growth.

AMP Capital Chief Economist Shane Oliver estimates that population growth in recent years has boosted the economy by about one percentage point per year.

But as migration stalls, education, housing and tourism sectors are seen among the worst hit.

The drought in international student arrivals, who in recent years made up about 40% of the migrant intake, is expected to hit the A$37 billion education sector, Australia’s second largest services export after tourism.

A fall in new arrivals could also dampen the construction boom in Australia’s all important housing sector, which has been fuelled by migrants in big cities like Sydney and Melbourne.

“REAL IMPACT”

Even though immigration is a politically divisive topic in Australia, there is a broad recognition that the country needs its 200,000 to 300,000 annual intake to grow consumption demand and fill skills shortages in various sectors.

While a large share of these migrants arrive on what are considered “temporary” visas, many later gain permanent residency and employment, adding to long-term population growth.

Australia’s population would grow an average 1.6% annually over the decade to 2027, according to the latest official projections from 2018. Without immigration, it was forecast to grow only 0.5%.

“During a slowdown and when the unemployment rate is high there is popular pressure to slow down migration,” said AMP Capital’s Oliver. “But if we want the economy working back again, we need migration to return.”

Concerns over immigration range from sustainability and housing affordability to more populist complaints about social integration and foreigners taking local jobs.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week Australia needed 160,000 to 210,000 arrivals to sustain GDP per capita growth, and acknowledged the great uncertainty current restrictions cast over the outlook.

“It’s going to be one of the real impacts of this crisis because our borders aren’t opening anytime soon,” he said.

SAFE BUBBLE

That has prompted urgent calls for solutions from some businesses and political leaders.

The premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, is lobbying her federal counterparts to allow international students in to rescue universities, which contribute A$13 billion to the economy of the country’s most populous state.

Australia’s government is also working with New Zealand to establish a “Trans-Tasman bubble” that would re-open the movement of people between the two closely integrated economies.

New Zealand is a large source of labour for Australia, home to about 600,000 kiwi expatriates.

To be sure, Australia still enjoys its “lucky country” status, benefiting from resilient global demand for some commodities and having been able to re-open large parts of the economy sooner than many other advanced economies..

But even though Australia’s central bank expects the economy to expand 6% next year after a projected 6% contraction in 2020, analysts and businesses warn a sustained recovery is unlikely without the full resumption of immigration.Over the years, immigration has helped transform Australia’s retail and urban landscape, reviving down-at-heel suburban high streets, spurring swanky commercial property development and creating new consumer markets.

Gotcha Fresh Tea is one of a host of bubble tea franchises that has expanded rapidly in Australia, with demand fuelled in large part by international students but also by growing interest for the Asian tapioca beverage from the wider community.

Orlando Sanpo, business development manager at EFC Group Australia, the chain’s franchisor, said the student freeze has hit sales by up to 80% in some downtown stores and even closed an outlet at a Sydney campus.

“We need people to come back to the country,” Sanpo said.

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Woman fatally stabbed in southeast Denver in the 800 block of South Oneida Street

Police are investigating the fatal stabbing of a woman Saturday night in southeast Denver.

Denver police tweeted just before 9 p.m. Saturday that officers were on scene in the 800 block of South Oneida Street in the Washington Virginia Vale neighborhood. There they found an adult woman who had been stabbed. She was taken to a local hospital.

Sunday morning, Denver police tweeted that she had died as a result of her injuries, and that the case is considered a homicide.

No information was released about possible suspects or the identity of the victim.

Anyone with information about the stabbing is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP (7867).

This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.  

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Target, CVS temporarily close stores due to protest dangers

Target and CVS are temporarily closing certain locations after some were damaged during weekend protests over the death of George Floyd.

Target said it was closing 105 stores in 10 states, including 46 stores in California and 33 in Minnesota, where the company is based and where the protests over Floyd’s death began. Target is also closing some stores in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Georgia, Oregon, Michigan and Texas.

CVS didn’t say how many stores it had closed, but it said the shuttered locations are in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia. A spokeswoman for the company said pharmacies at closed stores will reroute customers to a nearby CVS so they can get prescriptions filled.

“Employee and customer safety is our top priority, so we are continually monitoring protests as they occur in the communities we serve and will close stores, if needed, to help ensure the safety of employees and customers,” CVS said in a statement.

Floyd, who was black and handcuffed, died while being arrested by Minneapolis police for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill on May 25. Cellphone video showed that a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. Chauvin now faces murder and manslaughter charges. The other three officers who took part in the arrest were fired but haven’t been charged.

“We are heartbroken by the death of George Floyd and the pain it is causing communities across the country,” Target said in a statement. “Our focus will remain on our team members’ safety and helping our community heal.”

Target said employees at stores that are closed will be paid for up to 14 days, including premiums they are earning due to the coronavirus pandemic. They will also be able to work at Target locations that remain open.

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RTD’s suspension of bus and rail service to and from downtown Denver continues Sunday

The Regional Transportation District’s suspension of bus and rail service to and from downtown Denver will continue Sunday, transit officials announced, citing the three days of protests and violence sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Police clashed with demonstrators in downtown Denver on Saturday for the third night in a row, despite a citywide 8 p.m. curfew imposed by Mayor Michael Hancock in a bid to quell the violence. That curfew is again in effect from 8 p.m Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday.

Downtown bus and light rail service has been suspended since Friday, and that will continue at least “through the end of service today” to help ensure the safety of the transit service’s employees and riders, RTD officials said in a Sunday morning news release.

The following changes remain in effect Sunday:

  • No bus or rail service to or from downtown, including Union Station and Civic Center Station, which are closed
  • Two dozen bus routes will be detoured around downtown
  • The L line on light rail is stopped, the H line will run to the 10th/Osage Station and the C, E and W lines are running to the Empower Field at Mile High Station
  • The University of Colorado A Line will run from Central Park to Denver International Airport
  • The B Line will run between Westminster and 41st/Fox
  • The G Line will run between Ward and 41st/Fox

RTD will monitor the situation Sunday and determine when service to the downtown area will be restored, transit officials said.

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BBC Weather: Arctic blast sparks huge temperature drop in Europe – thunderstorm warning

BBC Weather’s Stav Danaos forecast thunderstorms for Scotland and Scandinavia next week as Arctic winds will sweep across the continent bringing a huge drop in temperatures. Turkey and the Black Sea are also at risk of thunderstorms after suffering from bad weather the past week. Temperatures in Stockholm will drop from a massive 26C amid the downpours.

Mr Danaos said: “It’s been dry and sunny for so long across the northwest of Europe but that’s certainly about to change as we start to see some colder air pushing southwards.

“Satellite pictures picks up this huge area of cloud with outbreaks of rain which should be affecting eastern Europe and colder winds pushing southwards as well.

“But a few thunderstorms breaking out.

“A risk of thunderstorms across Turkey and the Black Sea as well as in that area of cloud with some pretty wet weather on the way.

“Around 12C is Moscow and 18C in Warsaw so, a drop of temperature there.

“It looks dry, sunny and very warm across Scandinavia on Monday as temperatures reach 26C in Stockholm and 27C in Oslo.

“But we will start to see some cooler air pushing southwards into the northern parts of the British Isles and gradually into Scandinavia.

“Widespread sunshine across the north and west fo Europe.”

The drop of temperatures will be noticeable in London and Paris through the week with a risk of rain and thunderstorms as the cooler air moves in.

The forecast comes as weekend revellers have flocked to beaches and train stations to enjoy the sunny weather ahead of lockdown restrictions being eased on Monday.

Hundreds swarmed to popular beaches, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) complained that “mixed messages” from the Government has caused travel chaos.

Temperatures have soared well above the average for the time of year, with clear skies and highs of 28C on Saturday, according to the Met Office.

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Many people enjoyed the sunny weather on the coast by Durdle Door, near Lulworth in Dorset, despite police forces urging the public to “think twice” before travelling to crowded spots.

Dorset Police said on Friday: “Relaxation of lockdown legislation, coupled with warm and sunny weather, has seen a huge rise in the number of people travelling into Dorset to spend time at beauty spots, nature reserves and coastline.

“As the country continues to fight Covid-19 and keep the R rate (an infection measure) down, the public is being asked to take responsibility for their actions and do the right thing to avoid spreading the virus and reduce the impact on local communities.”

Similar scenes were also spotted at Bournemouth Beach, nearby Bournemouth train station, which RMT union leaders described as “the eye of the storm”.

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Egypt says 19 fighters killed in Sinai; 5 casualties among troops

Army says it launched raids and air attacks in Bir al-Abed, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, targeting ‘terrorist hideouts’.

The Egyptian military says it has killed at least 19 fighters during security operations in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, which also resulted in five casualties among troops

The army said in an online video statement late on Saturday that the fighters were killed in raids and attacks that took place last week in the towns of Bir al-Abed, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid.

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The statement said the army had killed three “extremely dangerous” fighters as well as 16 others in precision air attacks on their “terrorist hideouts”.

Troops also recovered troves of automatic rifles, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the army.

“Two officers, a noncommissioned officer and two soldiers were killed and wounded in the operations,” the statement said.

Other officials, however, told The Associated Press news agency that two officers, including a colonel and a lieutenant, and three conscript soldiers were killed when an explosive device hit their vehicle on Saturday while taking part in a campaign in central Sinai.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

Other details about the incident could not be independently corroborated as Egyptian authorities heavily restrict access to that part of Sinai.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Sinai unrest

Security forces have been confronting a long unrest in the Sinai led by a local affiliate of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.

The fighting intensified after the military’s 2013 overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, who was replaced by General-turned-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

In February 2018, authorities launched a nationwide operation, focused on North Sinai.  

About 970 suspected fighters have been killed in the region along with dozens of security personnel, according to official figures.


The Listening Post

Sinai, Sisi and the media

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Spain to extend lockdown to 21st June – El Pais

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spain’s prime minister said on Sunday he will ask parliament to agree to a last two-week extension of the state of emergency lockdown until 21st June, after which the government will no longer restrict citizens’ movements, newspaper El Pais reported.

Pedro Sanchez told regional government leaders during a video-conference meeting that this would be the last lockdown as Spain’s infection rates have reduced dramatically.

The country’s death toll rose by four on Saturday to 27,125, the health ministry said, reflecting a dramatic decline in daily fatalities as Spain brings the outbreak under control.

The number of COVID-19 infections increased by 271 overnight to 239,228 on Saturday.

One of the worst-hit nations by COVID-19, Spain imposed a state of emergency on 14 March which involved a strict lockdown under which people could only leave their homes to buy food, seek medical care or for jobs where they could not work from home. Children were initially confined inside all day. Restrictions are now being gradually eased.

Despite opposition to the last lockdown extension from parties on the right and demonstrations in the streets across Spain, Sanchez struck a deal with the Catalan separatist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) which should guarantee his minority government wins the parliamentary vote.

ERC, which has 13 deputies, reaffirmed on Saturday it would abstain from the vote, a senior party official said, which would allow the left-wing government to pass the motion.

The ERC said in a statement it had decided to abstain “provided that it is the last extension of the state of alarm.”

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