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Melbourne reopens as world’s most locked-down city eases pandemic restrictions

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October 22, 2021

By Sonali Paul and Melanie Burton

MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Melbourne residents flocked to the city’s pubs, restaurants and hair salons in the early hours of Friday after the world’s most locked-down city emerged from its latest spate of restrictions designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Australia’s second-largest city has so far endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of restrictions during six separate lockdowns since March 2020, representing the longest cumulative lockdown for any city in the world.

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Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, last year went through 234 straight days of lockdown.

In Melbourne, people were seen cheering and clapping from their balconies, while cars honked horns continuously at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday when lockdown restrictions in place since early August ended.

Many venues, including food outlets and even haircutters, opened at the unusual hour for the occasion.

Josh Mihan, owner of The Bearded Man barber shop in Melbourne, told Reuters he is nearly booked out for the next month and he is encouraging customers to make appointments for Christmas.

“We all love cutting hair and being on the floor is such a lovely feeling, being around people,” he said. “I have urged our customer base, make sure you have booked in your Christmas cut.”

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Similar jubilant scenes were seen in the country’s largest city https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/sydney-emerges-pandemic-lockdown-beer-hand-2021-10-11, Sydney, almost two weeks ago, when authorities started easing restrictions as COVID-19 vaccination rates rose.

Just over 70% of adults in Australia are now fully vaccinated and many residents are planning to fly overseas again as international border restrictions start to ease from November https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-ease-international-travel-curbs-sources-2021-10-01.

From Nov. 1, fully vaccinated international travellers arriving in Sydney and Melbourne will no longer need to quarantine.

Qantas Airways Ltd said on Friday that it would speed up plans to restart flights to many destinations and upsize some planes amid “massive demand”.

Qantas said it would launch a new route from Sydney to Delhi in early December and bring forward plans for flights to Singapore, Fiji, Johannesburg, Bangkok and Phuket.

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“This is a wonderful day – Australia is ready for take-off,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said shortly after the Qantas announcement.

A quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and Singapore could operate from next month, Morrison said, if an agreement is reached as expected.

A LONG LOCKDOWN

Even with Delta outbreaks across Australia’s southeast from late June, coronavirus numbers are still far lower than those of many comparable nations, with some 152,000 cases and 1,590 deaths.

The state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, reported 2,189 new local COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths on Friday, making it the centre of the Delta outbreak in Australia.

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Daily cases in New South Wales, home to Sydney where the Delta variant was first detected in June, dropped slightly to 345. The state recorded a further five deaths.

With a once-stuttering vaccine rollout gaining momentum, authorities no longer plan to rely on extended lockdowns to suppress the virus.

It has been an arduous period, especially for those in Melbourne running a business.

“We’ve been open for a year, and this is our fourth lockdown. It’s been very difficult,” said David Boyle, the head chef at the up-market Farmer’s Daughters restaurant in Melbourne.

Under more relaxed rules, restaurants and cafes can reopen with up to 20 people indoors and 50 outdoors – all of whom must be vaccinated – while 10 guests can gather at homes. Masks will remain mandatory.

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The reopening will be a boost for Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy after recent lockdowns pushed it to the brink of a second recession in as many years.

At Melbourne’s once bustling Journal Cafe, waitress Sullivan Kovacs said business was still modest on Friday and that customer numbers would increase once office workers and trades people returned to the city en masse.

“A lot of the traffic comes from people working in the city, and a lot of the tradies haven’t gone back to work yet,” Kovacs said.

($1 = 1.3259 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Melanie Burton and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Renju Jose; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Peter Cooney, Richard Pullin and Jane Wardell)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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