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New Zealand to start easing COVID-19 border restrictions

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October 28, 2021

By Praveen Menon

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Thursday it would ease coronavirus border restrictions that have been in place since March 2020, and move to a system of home isolation for fully vaccinated overseas arrivals from early next year.

The country was the among the first to shut down its borders in response to the pandemic last year, and has retained these tough border restrictions – leaving many expatriate citizens and residents stranded for months.

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The government said fully vaccinated overseas travellers will spend only seven days in state quarantine facilities from Nov. 14, half of the current requirement.

Home isolation will also be introduced in the first quarter of 2022, New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said at a news conference.

“We are very aware of pressure building at the borders as the world begins to reconnect,” Hipkins said at the news conference.

One-way quarantine free travel will open to smaller Pacific nations like Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu from Nov. 8, he said.

Once a poster child for stamping out COVID-19, New Zealand has been unable to quash the current Delta outbreak, forcing it to abandon an elimination strategy and switch to living with the virus.

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Still, it has fared far better than many comparable countries, as the tough curbs have helped limit COVID-19 cases to around 5,900 cases in total and just 28 deaths.

But the travel curbs angered many, the latest to join the chorus being Olympic sailing gold medalist and five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts.

He said full stadiums at events like the English Premier League and Europe’s Champions League in football, as well as the Ryder Cup golf tournament, were proof that people overseas are living with COVID-19.

“Although some people, perhaps many, rightly remain cautious, life has largely returned to normal in many places. But that is not what we are being told here in New Zealand,” Coutts said in a Facebook post.

“The erosion of our freedom of choice, freedom of speech and the loss of precious time with family and friends and all the other negative aspects of a lockdown should be balanced against the health risk of COVID,” he added.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last week New Zealand will end its strict lockdown measures when 90% of its eligible population is fully vaccinated. About 72% of those eligible have been fully vaccinated so far, while nearly 87% have received a first dose.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Richard Pullin and Kenneth Maxwell)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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