Vaccinated Hong Kong residents ready to party till 2 a.m. curfew as bars reopen

By Farah Master and Aleksander Solum

HONG KONG (Reuters) -In Hong Kong’s famed party zone Lan Kwai Fong, dormant bars and clubs opened to serve customers again, but only for those who have had at least one vaccine shot – one of the few examples globally of offering greater freedom for the vaccinated. Bar staff need to have gotten at least one coronavirus vaccine dose too, and patrons must register with a government mobile tracking application as they enter.

“Before it was a dead city, now it has loosened a little and everyone is happier,” said Vanessa, a 25-year-old office worker who was visiting the popular bar district. The Chinese special administrative region has kept COVID-19 transmission largely under control. Hong Kong has recorded more than 11,700 coronavirus cases, far lower than other developed cities. The new rules come as authorities there try to encourage the city’s 7.5 million residents to get vaccinated; only about 12% have received their first dose. “The re-opening of bars and the extension of opening hours are incentives for people to receive the vaccination, while the most important thing … is to prevent the spread of the infection, should it hit us again,” said Professor Lau Chak Sing, head of department of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). “In an ideal situation, one should complete the course of vaccination to ensure protection,” he said, adding that with Hong Kong’s adequate supply of vaccines, people eager to go to bars would complete both their first and second doses. Venues including nightclubs, karaoke lounges and bathhouses, can stay open until 2 a.m. from Thursday but must operate at half capacity, Sophia Chan, the city’s Health Secretary said. Bars can only seat two people per table.

COMPLEX RULES

Customers must scan the government’s app and show their vaccination record – stored electronically on their mobile phones – when they enter. Many residents have declined to use the app because of privacy concerns, choosing instead to write down their details. Restaurants can stay open until 2 a.m. and seat up to 8 people at a table, provided they have received both vaccine doses. But they must have a separate area for unvaccinated customers, and depending on whether staff have been vaccinated, might be required to close at 10 p.m. or midnight. The multi-tiered rules are tough to implement immediately, industry executives said, and many venues cannot open fully as they cannot force staff to get vaccinated. Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, a property owner and developer in the nightclub district, said that bar owners were desperate to reopen but that there remained a lot of apprehension among staff about vaccinations. “The restrictions will not be easy. Customers themselves need to have one vaccine, that in itself is very limiting,” he said, adding that the measures were a baby step forward and an experiment for both the government and the industry.

Ben Leung, president of Hong Kong’s Licensed Bar and Club Association, said only around 50% of the city’s 1280 bars would open on Thursday with others remaining closed until all their workers had received vaccinations.

Simon Wong, chief executive of LH Group, which operates dozens of restaurants and employs hundreds of staff, wrote on his Facebook page that the new arrangement was “so complicated”. Wong said his restaurants would only be able to seat 4 people per table and stay open until 10 p.m., as many staff did not want to get vaccinated. Hong Kong residents have been hesitant since the vaccination program began in February because of a lack of confidence in China’s Sinovac vaccine and fears of adverse reactions. Some residents have shown greater take-up for the vaccine offered by Germany’s BioNTech in the city but overall figures remain far below satisfactory, said the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok and Joyce Zhou ; Writing by Farah Master. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Toby Chopra)

COVID-19 cases in Canada’s most populous province could treble: CBC

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Modeling shows that cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, could treble by the end of May unless tough restrictions are imposed, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said on Friday.

Some hospitals say they are already close to breaking point as a rapidly worsening third wave rips through the province, and the head of its main nurses organization has called for a full lockdown including a curfew.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has so far resisted such wide-ranging steps but is under increasing criticism for how his government has handled the epidemic, is due to make an announcement at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time (1830 GMT).

Ontario, which accounts for 38% of Canada’s population, announced a record 4,736 daily cases on Thursday and the CBC cited sources as saying this could rocket to 18,000 by end-May if current trends continued.

Canada’s response to the pandemic has been complicated by the division of responsibilities between the 10 provinces and Ottawa, which helps fund healthcare but is not in charge of medical services. The federal government is buying vaccines but the provinces are responsible for inoculations.

Ottawa said Moderna – blaming supply problems – would only be delivering 650,000 doses by the end of April as opposed to 1.2 million. It also said one to two million doses of the 12.3 million doses scheduled for delivery in the second quarter may be delayed until the third quarter.

“We are disappointed, and while we understand the challenges facing suppliers … our government will continue to press Moderna to fulfill its commitments,” Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in a statement.

Separately, a group representing doctors urged authorities to take “extraordinary measures.”

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) said the 10 provinces should band together to pool resources and allocate them where they were most needed.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and John Stonestreet)

Police chief, officer who fatally shot Black man in Minnesota, resign

(Reuters) -The Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police chief and the officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year old Black man who struggled with police after a traffic stop, have both resigned, the city’s mayor told a briefing on Tuesday.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said the resignations came after the city council passed a resolution to dismiss both the chief, Tim Gannon, and the officer who shot Wright, Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the police force.

“I’m hoping this will bring some calm to the community,” the mayor said. “We want to send a message to the community that we are taking this situation seriously.”

Wright was shot on Sunday after being pulled over for what police said was an expired car registration. Officers then discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest, and an officer accidentally drew her pistol instead of her Taser during a struggle with Wright, Gannon said on Monday.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for a “full and transparent investigation” of the shooting.

Wright’s death ignited two consecutive nights of unrest in Brooklyn Center. Hundreds of protesters clashed with law enforcement officers outside the city’s police headquarters on Monday in defiance of a curfew ordered by Governor Tim Walz.

The region had already been on edge for weeks with the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, taking place just a few miles away from where the shooting of Wright occurred.

Wright’s relatives have described him as a kind man who liked basketball and worked multiple jobs to support his son.

“My brother lost his life because they were trigger-happy,” his older half-sibling, Dallas Wright, said during a memorial vigil on Monday evening at the spot where he was killed.

“My heart is broken in a thousand pieces… I miss him so much, and it’s only been a day,” his mother, Katie Wright, said at the vigil. “He was my life, he was my son and I can never get that back. Because of a mistake? Because of an accident?”

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Peter Szekely in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)

Myanmar police fire to disperse protest, four hurt, one critical

(Reuters) – Police and protesters clashed in Myanmar on Tuesday, with injuries on both sides on the most violent day so far of demonstrations against the military coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi, and a doctor said one woman was unlikely to survive a gun wound in the head.

Three other people were being treated for wounds from suspected rubber bullets after police fired guns, mostly into the air, and used a water cannon to try to clear protesters in the capital Naypyitaw.

State television reported injuries to police during their attempts to disperse protesters – its first acknowledgement of the demonstrations taking place in the country.

The incidents marked the first bloodshed since the military led by army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing overthrew Suu Kyi’s newly elected government on Feb. 1 and detained her and other politicians from her National League for Democracy (NLD).

The military claimed that the NLD won by fraud – an accusation dismissed by the election committee and Western governments.

Late on Tuesday, police in Myanmar raided the NLD’s headquarters in Yangon, two elected NLD lawmakers said.

The raid was carried out by about a dozen police personnel, who forced their way into the building in the commercial capital after dark, they said.

“DISPROPORTIONATE FORCE”

The protests are the largest in Myanmar for more than a decade, reviving memories of almost half a century of direct army rule and spasms of bloody uprisings until the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics in 2011.

The United Nations expressed concern about the use of force against demonstrators.

“I call on the Security Forces to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Ola Almgren, the UN representative in Myanmar, said.

“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable.”

According to reports from Naypyitaw, Mandalay and other cities, numerous demonstrators have been injured, some of them seriously, by security forces.

A doctor in the Naypyitaw hospital said the shot woman had suffered what was most likely to be a fatal head wound.

“She hasn’t passed away yet, she’s in the emergency unit, but it’s 100% certain the injury is fatal,” said the doctor, who declined to be identified. “According to the X-ray, it’s a live bullet.”

Neither police nor the hospital responded to a request for comment.

A man had a chest wound but was not in critical condition. It was not clear if he was hit with a bullet or rubber bullet, the doctor said.

State-run MRTV news said a police truck had been destroyed at a demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city. It showed footage of the aftermath, including injured police.

MRTV described the protests as being orchestrated by people who wanted to harm the nation’s stability and had acted aggressively. It made no mention of the coup or other demonstrations across the country.

Earlier, witnesses said police fired into the air in Naypyitaw as a crowd refused to disperse. They then blasted them with water cannon while the protesters responded with stones, a witness said.

Footage posted on social media apparently of the woman who was shot showed her with other protesters by what appeared to be a bus-stop shelter some distance from a row of riot police as a water cannon sprayed and several shots could be heard.

The woman, wearing a motorbike helmet, suddenly collapsed. Pictures of her helmet showed what appeared to be a bullet hole. Reuters was not able to verify the video footage or photographs.

Video from the central town of Bago showed police confronting a crowd and firing water cannon. Police arrested at least 27 demonstrators in Mandalay, domestic media reported.

The situation nationwide was quiet by nightfall. Orders banning gatherings of more than four people and a curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. have been imposed on Yangon and Mandalay.

PROMISES

Suu Kyi’s party had won a 2015 election but Myanmar’s transition to democracy was brought to a halt by the Feb. 1 coup staged as her government was due to start a second term.

Promises on Monday from Min Aung Hlaing to eventually hold a new election drew scorn. He said the junta would form a “true and disciplined democracy,” different to previous eras of military rule, which brought years of isolation and poverty.

He gave no time frame but the junta has said a state of emergency would last one year.

A civil disobedience movement affecting hospitals, schools and government offices shows no sign of ending but the crowds in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital and commercial hub, appeared smaller on Tuesday than the previous day.

“The main thing is we don’t want a coup,” said a 24-year-old woman protester in Yangon. “If we young people don’t come out, who will?”

Activists are also seeking the abolition of a 2008 constitution drawn up under military supervision that gave the generals a veto in parliament and control of several ministries, and for a federal system in ethnically diverse Myanmar.

Western governments have widely condemned the coup, although there has been little concrete action to press the generals.

The U.N. Security Council has called for the release of SuuKyi and others. The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the crisis.

Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest.

The 75-year-old faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in detention until Feb. 15. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.

Suu Kyi remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel; Editing by Richard Pullin, Angus MacSwan)

Shops boarded up as Dutch brace for fourth night of coronavirus riots

By Anthony Deutsch

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands braced on Tuesday for a fourth consecutive night of coronavirus anti-lockdown riots, with some shops boarding their windows and sending staff home early for safety.

Dutch police detained more than 180 people on Monday night, where roaming groups set fires, threw rocks and looted stores in several cities.

The Netherlands’ first curfew since World War Two was imposed on Saturday despite weeks of falling infections, after the National Institute for Health (RIVM) said a faster-spreading variant first found in England was causing a third of cases.

A hospital in Rotterdam warned visitors of patients to stay away, after rioters tried to attack hospitals in various cities in the past days.

“We have had riots in the past, but it’s rare to have this for several nights across the entire country,” said National Police spokeswoman Suzanne van de Graaf. “It’s not only in known problem areas, but much more widespread.”

Riot police with shields and batons were called out in more than 10 cities, many of which had issued emergency decrees to provide officers with greater powers to conduct searches.

Police had scuffled with rioters in several cities late into the night, chasing them down narrow streets with vans or on foot as helicopters hovered overhead.

In Amsterdam on Monday, groups of youths threw fireworks, broke store windows and attacked a police truck, but were broken up by a massive police presence.

Ten police officers were injured in Rotterdam, where 60 rioters were detained overnight after widespread looting and destruction in the city center, a police spokeswoman said. Supermarkets in the port city were emptied, while rubbish bins and vehicles were set ablaze.

Two photographers were hurt after being targeted by rock-throwing gangs, one in Amsterdam and another in the nearby town of Haarlem, police said.

Coronavirus infections have been falling in recent weeks, with the number of new cases down by 8% over the past week. A little under 4,000 new infections were reported on Tuesday, the smallest daily increase since Nov 24.

But the RIVM said the situation in the Netherlands was still very serious as a result of the more contagious variant that has caused a massive surge in cases in Britain.

Van de Graaf said much of the aggression during the three days of unrest had been targeted at police officers. More than 470 people have been arrested, with riot police deploying water cannon and officers on horseback in several places.

Schools and non-essential shops across the Netherlands have been shut since mid-December. Bars and restaurants were closed two months earlier. The country’s death toll stands at 13,664, with 956,867 infections to date.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)

Netherlands proposes first curfew since World War Two, flight bans

By Bart H. Meijer

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch government on Wednesday proposed the first nationwide curfew since World War Two and a ban on flights from South Africa and Britain in its toughest moves yet to limit the spread of coronavirus in the Netherlands.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the curfew, which is largely intended to target new, more infectious variants of the disease, must be approved by parliament, which is set to debate measures against the coronavirus on Thursday.

The flight ban, which Rutte said also will apply to all South American countries, will begin on Saturday. The curfew was expected to take effect this weekend, he said.

“This is a very tough measure, but we are at a crossroads,” Rutte said in a televised news conference. “The British variant doesn’t leave us with an alternative.”

The curfew would allow only people with pressing needs to leave their homes between 8:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. local time, Rutte said.

Exceptions include medical emergencies, people who need to be outdoors to carry out essential jobs and walking of pets on a leash. Violators can be fined 95 euros ($115).

The government said it will also require all international travelers arriving by airplane or boat to provide proof of a second negative COVID-19 rapid test, taken just before departure. It had already required a negative test taken within 72 hours of travel.

KLM, the Dutch subsidiary of Air France KLM, said that in response to the requirement it will halt 270 weekly long-haul flights and an undetermined number of European flights to the Netherlands from Friday.

“Based on the information we have this will also count for crew members,” said KLM spokeswoman Gerrie Brand. “We cannot take the risk that crew members get stuck abroad, so we have decided to halt all long-haul flights.”

Schools and non-essential shops have already been shut since mid-December, following the closure of bars and restaurants two months earlier. They will remain shut until at least Feb. 9.

Infections in the Netherlands have decreased steadily in the past three weeks, but health authorities say the new variants will lead to a new surge by next month if social distancing measures are not tightened.

The government currently has a caretaker status, as Rutte last Friday handed his resignation to King Willem-Alexander following a damning report on his cabinet’s handling of childcare subsidies.

Rutte has said he will remain to take decisions on COVID-19 policies until a new government is formed after the March 17 elections, seeking broad support for measures from both coalition and opposition parties.

($1 = 0.8264 euros)

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Additional reporting by Toby Sterling; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Giles Elgood, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

Ontario declares emergency amid surging COVID-19 cases as Canada buys more vaccines

By Moira Warburton and David Ljunggren

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Ontario declared an emergency on Tuesday after latest modelling put Canada’s most populous province on track to have more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by the middle of February, a nearly ten-fold increase from the current count.

Ontario, which is battling a coronavirus surge that has swamped its hospitals and triggered a province-wide lockdown, could also see roughly 1,500 more deaths in its long-term care homes through mid-February under a worst-case scenario, according to modeling from experts advising the government.

New restrictions that take effect on Jan. 14 mandate that residents must stay at home except for essential activity, while outdoor gatherings will be limited to five people, and non-essential construction work will be restricted.

“I know the stay at home order is a drastic measure, one we don’t take lightly. Everyone must stay home to stay lives,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a media briefing. “Enforcement and inspections will increase.”

Canada began targeted vaccinations in December, with current efforts focused on healthcare workers and residents of long-term care homes.

The federal government ordered an additional 20 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. That would take the total number of doses to be delivered this year in Canada to 80 million.

Ontario, the country’s economic engine, has been under lockdown since Dec. 26, with non-essential businesses shuttered and schools closed for in-person learning.

Yet the daily number of COVID-19 cases has spiked above 3,500 on average over the past seven days, government data showed. On Tuesday, Ontario reported 2,903 new COVID-19 cases.

Under the worst-case scenario with 7% case growth, there would be 40,000 new cases daily by mid-February, while the best-case scenario with 1% growth would result in 5,000 new cases every day, Ontario’s data showed. Case growth has recently been over 7% on the worst days, the data showed.

In five of the hardest hit areas of Ontario – including the Toronto area, nearby Hamilton, and Windsor-Essex across the border from Detroit – schools will remain closed until at least Feb. 10. Childcare for children who are too young for school will remain open, along with emergency childcare for some school-age children.

“We will have to confront choices that no doctor ever wants to make and no family ever wants to hear,” Dr. Steini Brown, head of Ontario’s case modeling, said at a briefing on Tuesday. “People will die from the virus itself and from the overloaded health system that is unable to respond to their needs.”

Brown warned that the new COVID-19 variant from Britain was already in Ontario and could decrease the doubling time of cases – or how long it takes for case counts to double, currently 30 to 40 days – to 10 days.

Last week Quebec, Canada’s worst-affected province from COVID-19, became the first in the country to introduce a curfew to limit the spread.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas, Paul Simao and Rosalba O’Brien)

France promises 1 billion euros for curfew-hit companies

PARIS (Reuters) – Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire promised 1 billion euros ($1.17 billion) of additional support to help French companies cushion the impact of a nightly curfew in Paris and eight other big cities where the coronavirus is running rampant.

Le Maire also said that companies in the beleaguered hospitality industry would be exempt from social charges if their revenues crashed by more than 50% as a result of the curfews.

The curfews are President Emmanuel Macron’s response to a dilemma facing countries across Europe: how to keep the economy running and protect jobs while slowing the spread of infections and taking pressure off the creaking healthcare systems.

“The new measures will cost about 1 billion euros over the duration of the curfew,” Le Maire told a news conference.

Le Maire also said he was asking banks to delay interest payments on state-guaranteed loans to struggling companies in the hotel, restaurant and events industries.

The French banking lobby, FBF, said in emailed comment to Reuters that “banks share the idea that flexibility should be the rule”.

French banks have given out more than 120 billion euros in state-backed loans so far this year. FBF added that a permanent dialogue between companies and their bankers was essential in order to find the best solution for reimbursement of the loans.

“Banks are confident in their ability to act, as they did during the deployment of PGE (state-backed loans), in a perfect coordination with public authorities and businesses,” FBF said.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said people could break the curfew to travel to and from work, catch a train or plane, seek medical attention and even walk a dog – but an interior ministry exemption document would be needed in case of a police check.

France’s interior minister said 12,000 police would enforce the curfews in Paris, Toulouse, Marseille, Montpellier, Grenoble, Rouen, Lille, Lyon and Saint-Etienne. In all, the curfew order covers about 20 million people, almost a third of France’s population.

Anyone breaking the curfew will be fined 135 euros

(Reporting by Geert de Clercq; Writing by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by John Stonestreet and Tomasz Janowski and Kirsten Donovan)

Protesters sue Kenosha claiming arrests, curfew violate U.S. Constitution

By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) – Four people arrested for curfew violations while protesting the shooting of a Black man by a white policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin sued the city and county governments on Tuesday, claiming they were denied free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs argue that more than 150 people protesting the shooting have been taken into custody while pro-police demonstrators have been allowed to freely take to the streets, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

“In Kenosha, there are two sets of laws – one that applies to those who protest police brutality and racism, and another for those who support the police,” the plaintiffs argue in their complaint, which seeks a temporary restraining order until the litigation can be heard in court.

Reuters could not reach city and county officials for comment after business hours.

Kenosha has been the scene of sometimes violent protests after video footage surfaced showing a police officer shooting Jacob Blake, 29, multiple times in the back.

Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down and the officer, Rusten Sheskey, was placed on administrative leave during an investigation.

The protesters claim in their lawsuit that police were using the curfew to prevent them from taking part in constitutionally protected activity.

The plaintiffs also say police are selectively enforcing the curfew by not arresting pro-police demonstrators, a violation of equal protection under the law guaranteed by the constitution.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, was filed on the same day that U.S. President Donald Trump visited Kenosha over the objections of some local officials.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Stephen Coates)

Gaza man dies of coronavirus as lockdown imposed to curb first outbreak

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Gaza reported one coronavirus death and at least 10 new cases of infection on Wednesday as the blockaded Palestinian enclave sought to control its first public outbreak of the disease.

Hamas-controlled security forces enforced a lockdown in all cities in the coastal territory, warning people to stay at home or to wear face masks if they had to go out for emergencies.

Health officials said the 61-year-old man who died had pre-existing conditions and had been on a respirator.

Ten more cases were reported on Wednesday, six of them in Maghazi refugee camp where the first four infections were discovered on Monday, and another four in Gaza City and the northern area of the enclave of 2 million people.

The new infections added to concerns among local and international health organizations about Gaza’s potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely populated refugee camps and limited hospital capacity.

Until Monday the 360 square-kilometre (139 square-mile) coastal strip had reported no infections outside border quarantine facilities for new arrivals.

Facing for the first time a situation that the rest of the world has been dealing with for months, Gazans have been going online to share experiences and voice their concerns.

“We are now alone with Corona, with the blazing sun and the power supply being cut off. Corona came to empty pockets and homes on the brink of sadness and anger,” wrote one Gaza resident on Twitter.

The 40 kilometre-long territory is sealed off from the outside world by Israeli walls, watchtowers and gunboats along 90% of its border and coastline, and by Egypt along a narrow strip to the south.

Both countries impose tight restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza, citing security concerns over Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

The blockade is thought to be one reason why Gaza remained relatively virus-free, with many of its residents comparing their situation to a permanent lockdown.

The United Nations agency dealing with Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it was considering alternative plans to continue under lockdown the health, education and food services it provides to more than half Gaza’s population.

UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said clinics remained open but staffers were providing medical consultations over the phone, and some medication was being delivered to homes.

(Additional reporting by Zainah El-Haroun in Ramallah; Writing by Stephen Farrell and Dan Williams; Editing by William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)