England scraps quarantine for fully vaccinated visitors

England scraps quarantine for fully vaccinated visitors

Fully vaccinated travelers from the United States and much of Europe can enter England without quarantining starting next week.

The British government says people who have received both doses of a vaccine approved by the FDA in the U.S. or the European Medicines Agency, can take pre-and post-arrival coronavirus tests instead of self-isolating.

There is one exception: France, which Britain has dubbed a higher risk because of the presence of the beta variant of the coronavirus. Visitors from France will continue to face a British quarantine.

Currently, only people who have been vaccinated in Britain can skip 10 days of quarantine when arriving from most of Europe or North America. The move to boost Britain’s ailing travel industry comes despite rising coronavirus cases.

The rule change takes effect Monday and only applies to England. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will decide whether to follow suit.

Britain’s travel industry has criticized the government for being too slow to open up, saying it has squandered its lead in the global vaccine rollout and given the EU a headstart in attracting tourists.

Now, from Aug. 2, travelers with the U.S. and EU-approved vaccines will not have to quarantine. Lifting the same requirement for fully vaccinated Britons returning from medium-risk countries in July helped to kickstart a travel recovery.

The new rule applies to England but is widely expected to be followed by the rest of Britain shortly. The government said international cruise sailings could also restart from England.

Airlines such as British Airways and Britain’s biggest airport Heathrow, weighed down by cumulative pandemic losses of $4 billion, welcomed the move but said more was needed to be done if the industry was to recover from the collapse in demand.

Top of the list is a reopening of the UK-U.S. travel corridor which is still affected by a ban on all non-U.S. citizens who have been in Britain.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told LBC Radio earlier on Wednesday that he wanted U.S. citizens to come to England “freely” and was discussing making changes.

Travelers also still have to take an expensive COVID-19 test before departure and shortly after arrival in England.

BA Chief Executive Sean Doyle said the company’s trials had proved it could check travelers for vaccination status quickly and safely.

“This step will allow us to reunite loved ones and get Global Britain back in business, giving the economy the vital boost it so badly needs,” he said in a statement.

(With AP inputs)

Parts of Sydney going into lockdown as virus outbreak grows

Parts of Sydney going into lockdown as virus outbreak grows

The local council areas in Sydney headed for lockdown are Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick and the City of Sydney

Parts of Sydney will go into lockdown late Friday as Covid-19 outbreak in Australia’s largest city continues unabated.

Health authorities reported an additional 22 locally transmitted cases and imposed a weeklong lockdown in four areas, saying people could leave their homes only for essential purposes.

The outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant was first detected last week, and 65 people have been infected.

“If you live or work in those local government areas, you need to stay at home unless absolutely necessary,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state.

She said the lockdown, which was due to go into effect just before midnight, would have a significant impact on businesses, especially in the central business district of the city of more than 5 million people.

A day earlier, the premier had said there wasn’t any need for further restrictions.

Berejiklian herself tested negative for the virus after her Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall tested positive. Health Minister Brad Hazzard is self-isolating as a close contact of a suspected Covid-19 case in Parliament House.

The local council areas in Sydney headed for lockdown are Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick and the City of Sydney. People can leave their homes only for reasons such as essential work or education, shopping, and exercise.

Authorities say the cluster spread from a Sydney airport limousine driver who wasn’t vaccinated and reportedly didn’t wear a mask and he is suspected to have been infected while transporting a foreign air crew.

Australian states have closed their borders to travelers either from parts of Sydney or from anywhere in New South Wales. New Zealand has stopped quarantine-free travel with the state until at least 6 July.

One of the people infected traveled to New Zealand’s capital Wellington last weekend, visiting restaurants, bars and tourist spots. That prompted some restrictions in Wellington, although no one has tested positive so far.

The pandemic has claimed 910 deaths in Australia, a country of 26 million. The only Covid-19 death since October was an 80-year-old man who was infected overseas and was diagnosed in hotel quarantine.

HK to tighten quarantine requirements for UK arrivals

HK to tighten quarantine requirements for UK arrivals

The government will also classify the UK, which is currently a “high-risk” place, as “very high-risk” with effect from 28 June

The Hong Kong government announced that the quarantine requirements for persons arriving from the UK will be tightened from 28 June.

In a statement on Thursday, the government said the decision was taken in view of the recent rebound of the pandemic situation in the UK and the widespread of Delta variant, coupled with a number of cases with the L452R mutant virus strains detected on people arriving from Britain or during quarantine in Hong Kong.

The government will also classify the UK, which is currently a “high-risk” place, as “very high-risk” with effect from 28 June.

Persons from the UK boarding for Hong Kong have to present at boarding negative result proof of a nucleic acid test conducted within 72 hours before the scheduled time of departure of the aircraft, as well as the confirmation of a room reservation in a designated quarantine hotel in the city.

On confirmation of negative test results at the Hong Kong International Airport, they will then be required to board the designated transport to proceed to the designated quarantine hotels for a 21-day compulsory quarantine, during which four tests will be conducted, followed by a seven-day self-monitoring period as well as compulsory testing on the 26th day of arrival, the statement added.

About 650 US troops to remain in Afghanistan after withdrawal

About 650 US troops to remain in Afghanistan after withdrawal

Officials have repeatedly stressed that security at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is a critical requirement to keeping any US diplomatic staff in Afghanistan

Roughly 650 US troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes its withdrawal, which is set to be largely done in the next two weeks, US officials said.

In addition, several hundred additional American forces will remain at the Kabul airport, potentially until September, to assist Turkish troops providing security, the officials said Thursday.

Overall, officials said the US expects to have American and coalition military command, its leadership and most troops out by July Fourth, or shortly after that, meeting an aspirational deadline that commanders developed months ago.

The departure of the bulk of the more than 4,000 troops that have been in the country in recent months is unfolding well before President Joe Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline for withdrawal. And it comes amid accelerating Taliban battlefield gains, fueling fears that the Afghan government and its military could collapse in a matter of months.

Officials have repeatedly stressed that security at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is a critical requirement to keeping any US diplomatic staff in Afghanistan.

Still, the decision to keep additional troops there for several more months makes it more complicated for the Biden administration to declare a true end to America’s longest war until later this fall.

In a statement Thursday night, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that as Biden has ordered, the US will complete the withdrawal by early September. “Nothing has changed about that goal.” Kirby said. “The situation is dynamic, and we review our progress daily. Speculation by unnamed sources about potential changes to that timeline should not be construed as predictive.”

On Friday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chair of the High Council for National Reconciliation, are meeting with Biden at the White House. The two Afghan leaders also are to meet at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and possibly other administration officials, the Pentagon announced.

Getting most troops out by early July had been in doubt because of complications including an outbreak of Covid-19 at the US Embassy and the push to get Afghan interpreters and others who helped the US out of the country.

As recently as last week, there was discussion of possibly extending the US troop presence at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, but officials said the US presence at the base is expected to end in the next several days.

Officials said the US has agreed to leave a C-RAM – or Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar system – at the airport, as well as troops to operate it, as part of an agreement with Turkey. The US also plans to leave aircrew for helicopter support at the airport.

According to the officials, Turkey has largely agreed to provide security at the airport as long as it receives support from American forces. US and Turkish military officials are meeting in Ankara this week to finalize arrangements.

On Wednesday, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is not yet a written agreement with Turks on airport security. He said he did not want to speak about specifics before there is a final agreement, but added, “I feel very comfortable that security at the Kabul airport will be maintained and the Turks will be a part of that.”

The administration intends to carry out the evacuation of Afghans and their families to other countries or US territories later this summer, likely in August while their visa application are processed, according to a second official familiar with the deliberations but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

The Pentagon has said the military is prepared to assist the State Department as needed but indicated that charter flights might be adequate to move the Afghan visa applicants, thus not necessarily requiring a military airlift.

Officials said that NATO allies, such as Germany, are also very close to being completely out of the country.

Indonesia Covid spike due to Delta variant

Indonesia Covid spike due to Delta variant

The recent spike Covid-19 cases in Indonesia’s Kudus district of Central Java province is due to the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus, an official said.

Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo said on Sunday that  86.11 per cent or 62 out of a total of the 72 cases in Kudus emanated from the Delta variant, reports Xinhua news agency.

“The spread of this virus variant is very fast. Three weeks ago Covid-19 in Kudus affected only three sub-districts but today they are happening in 11 sub-districts,” Pranowo said.

“Kudus experienced a significant increase in positive cases in a week, jumping more than 30 times from 26 to 929 cases,” Wiku Adisasmito, the national Covid-19 task force spokesperson, said.

Kudus has so far recorded 10,525 confirmed cases, with 7,322 recoveries and 861 deaths.

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the Delta variant in Kudus came from Indonesian migrant workers who returned from India.

“We have been taking good care of airports and seaports in Indonesia,” said the Minister.

Biden to talk China, Russia & soothe allies at NATO

Biden to talk China, Russia & soothe allies at NATO

US President Joe Biden makes his entrance at a NATO summit aiming to consult European allies on efforts to counter provocative actions by China and Russia.

The summit on Monday comes as Biden tries to rally allies for greater coordination in checking China and Russia, two adversaries whose actions on economic and national security fronts have become the chief foreign policy concerns in the early going of the Biden presidency.

Biden will use his time at the summit to underscore the US commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on one member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response.

The communique to be signed by NATO alliance members at the end of the summit will include language about updating Article 5.

The update will spell out that if an alliance member requires technical support against a cyber attack, it would be able to invoke the mutual defense provision to receive assistance, said White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan.

The President will begin his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states regarding the “threat posed by Russia,” China and the recent air piracy in Belarus, according to Sullivan. He’ll also meet with NATO secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

Biden is focused on building a more cohesive bond between America and allies who had become wary of US leadership as the Trump administration was at odds with some leading NATO members, including Britain, Germany and France, over Trump’s 2018 decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement that was brokered during the Obama administration.

For now, NATO plans to leave civilian advisers to help build up government institutions. It’s unclear who will protect them. The alliance is also weighing whether to train Afghan special forces outside the country.

NATO members are also expected to endorse the creation of a new cyber defense policy to improve coordination with countries impacted by the increasing frequency of ransomware attacks, a climate security action plan to reduce greenhouse gases from military activities in line with national commitments under the Paris Agreement and a commitment to strengthen NATO’s deterrence to meet threats from Russia and elsewhere, according to the White House.

Biden will also meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday on the sidelines of the summit.

The two leaders were expected to discuss Syria and Iran as well as what role Turkey can play on Afghanistan following the US troop withdrawal, according to the White House.

Also on the agenda: how Washington and Ankara “deal with some of our significant differences on values and human rights and other issues,” Sullivan said.

The unsettled security situation in Libya, as well as overlapping concerns on China and Russia are also expected to be discussed.

Myanmar forces detaining protesters’ families

Myanmar forces detaining protesters’ families

Myanmar security forces are arbitrarily arresting and detaining family and friends of activists, protesters and opposition members.

The trend is increasing, says global rights groups, who demand the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all those wrongfully held and end all collective punishment.

Since the 1 February military coup in Myanmar, security forces have detained at least 76 people, including an infant, during raids when they were unable to find the person they sought to arrest, according to documentation by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

At least 48 of those people are still in detention, with some now held for more than three months.

‘Thuggish tactic’

“Seizing family members and friends as hostages is a thuggish tactic by Myanmar’s security forces to terrorize the population and coerce activists to turn themselves in,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The authorities should end the practice of collective punishment immediately and release everyone held on this illegal basis.”

Security forces unable to find specific suspects have arrested their parents, children, other relatives, and friends who happened to be present during the search.

Search and detained

On 8 March, security forces searching for lawyer Robert San Aung seized his daughter and brother-in-law and held them for 18 days before releasing them.

On 22 April, security forces searching for Pu Do Sian Pau, a member of the opposition Civil Disobedience Movement, seized his mother and his 70-year-old father, a retired pastor of the Cope Memorial Baptist Church. Both are still in detention.

On 29 April, security forces searching for Salai Bawi Uk Thang, the editor-in-chief of the Chinland Post newspaper, detained his father. He is still in detention.

On 23 May, security forces arrested the parents and younger brother of a striking worker from the fire department. All three relatives are still in detention.

In some cases, witnesses allege that the security forces beat the relatives before detaining them.

Tin Htut Paing, an activist who is in hiding, told the media that, on 2 May, security forces searching for him and his brother beat his 90-year-old grandmother and 64-year-old mother.

Security forces detained his mother and charged her with “incitement”. On May 28, she was sentenced to three years in prison.

According to the AAPP, security forces searching for Associate Judge Kaung Myat Thu of Chaung-U Township Court beat his mother before arresting her. His mother is still in detention

Young children and even an infant have also been detained, at least temporarily. Security forces detained five relatives of strike leader Ko Jay Lah, including two girls aged two and four.

Similarly, forces searching for protest leader U Tan Win detained his wife and 20-day-old baby.

While in both cases the family members were released later the same day, the arrests send a chilling message to activists and members of the Civil Disobedience Movement that no member of their family is safe, HRW’s Robertson said.

Collective punishment

The detention of people based solely on their relationship to another person is a form of collective punishment, which violates the right to liberty and security of person and the right to a fair trial.

“Myanmar’s junta has taken unlawful detention to a noxious new level by detaining those close to people who themselves should not be facing arrest,” Robertson said.

“Concerned governments should urgently impose targeted sanctions and a global arms embargo or expect the junta to continue to raise the stakes on abusive actions.”

Last month, the Burmese army Tatmadaw used villagers as shields during their attempt to regain control of the Mindat town in the Chin Hills.

“Using civilians as shield is a gross violation of the rules of war,” said Amrita Dey, an author of a volume on Myanmar.

“The Tatmadaw is crossing all limits.”

2 killed in US parking lot shooting

2 killed in US parking lot shooting

Police officers responded to a report of shots fired just after 2 a.m., on Saturday where they found four people shot, Xinhua news agency reported.

Two people were killed and two others injured after a shooting at a parking lot in Indianapolis, the capital of the US state of Indiana, police said.

Police officers responded to a report of shots fired just after 2 a.m., on Saturday where they found four people shot, Xinhua news agency reported.

One man was pronounced dead at the scene, and another peron died shortly after being taken to hospital.

Another man and a woman were injured and taken to hospital in stable condition, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said later in the day.

The shooting appeared to have occurred in the parking lot after the victims were at a local business, the police said.

Homicide detectives are investigating the shooting.

Hamas tunnels damaged by Israel renovated: Official

Hamas tunnels damaged by Israel renovated: Official

According to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), the tunnels were built over five years and allowed Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, to move ammunition, fighters and food within the coastal strip.

Yehya Sinwar, leader of the Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, said on that the tunnels damaged by Israeli fighter jets last month in the enclave were renovated.

“Israel had only succeeded to destroy 3 per cent of Hamas tunnels and our fighters fixed them all,” Sinwar said in a meeting on Saturday.

During the tit-for-tat violence in the Gaza Strip that began on May 10, the Israeli Army claimed that it had “neutralised” an extensive tunnel system dug by the Palestinian Hamas militants in the besieged enclave.

According to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), the tunnels were built over five years and allowed Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, to move ammunition, fighters and food within the coastal strip.

The fighting finally ended on May 21 after an Egypt-brokered ceasefire took effect.

During the 11 days of fighting, more than 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

Severe destruction was caused to the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Oversight Board hails move as Facebook bans Trump for 2 yrs

Oversight Board hails move as Facebook bans Trump for 2 yrs

Facebook has suspended US former President Donald Trump from its platforms for two years, the maximum penalty under a newly revealed set of rules for suspending public figures, a move that was hailed by the independent Oversight Board which had upheld the earlier decision by the social network to ban Trump.

Facebook said on Friday that it will reevaluate the ban and make the decision whether to end or extend it.

According to Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Facebook, the company will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded at the end of the two-year suspension.

“We are suspending his (Trump) accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year,” Clegg said in a blog post.

When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.

The Oversight Board said in a statement that it is encouraged that Facebook is adopting many of the Board’s policy recommendations in this case.

“The Board is now assessing Facebook’s response to our recommendations, including greater transparency around the ‘strikes’ policy, how Facebook will apply the ‘newsworthiness allowance’ to the accounts of politicians and other influential individuals, and the new enforcement protocols,” it said.

Facebook has said it is committed to being more transparent about the decisions it makes and how they impact its users.

“As well as our updated enforcement protocols, we are also publishing our strike system, so that people know what actions our systems will take if they violate our policies,” Clegg said.

The Board said it believes that the steps Facebook has committed to oday will contribute to greater clarity, consistency and transparency in the way the company moderates content, and promote public safety, defend human rights and respect freedom of expression.

The Oversight Board voted against reinstating Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in May while saying it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an “indefinite” suspension.

It required Facebook to revisit the case, either restore Trump’s accounts, make the ban permanent or define a suspension for a set period of time.

The board is a panel of about 20 former political leaders, human rights activists and journalists picked by Facebook to deliberate the company’s content decisions.