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Plotting the return to normal as Delta variant spreads

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As COVID-19 vaccine rollouts gain momentum, many countries are opening borders and letting people back into restaurants, shops and sports venues after more than a year of on-off lockdowns.

But the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant has led some countries to delay elements of their return to normal.

Here are some of their plans, in alphabetical order with the latest moves in each country listed first:

AUSTRALIA

Authorities trying to stamp out an outbreak in Sydney of the Delta variant said on July 5 that the next two days would be “absolutely critical” in deciding whether to extend a stay-home order beyond July 9.

BRITAIN

Britain aims to end COVID-related restrictions on July 19, allowing pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and other hospitality venues to fully reopen.

Non-essential retailers in England reopened on April 12 along with pubs and restaurants operating outdoors. Indoor hospitality, cinemas, theatres and sports halls reopened on May 17 with capacity restrictions. Britain also resumed international travel, with quarantine rules still in place for most arrivals.

CANADA

Canadians and permanent residents who have received two vaccination doses exempted from quarantine when returning to the country from July 5.

COLOMBIA

From July 15, international travellers no longer need to present a negative PCR test and in-person classes resume for pre-school children to university students once staff are vaccinated.

On June 3, the country approved reopening most large events like concerts and sports matches with 25% capacity for cities where intensive care units occupancy rates are below 85%.

FRANCE

Nightclubs re-open from July 9.

Restriction measures were lifted on July 6 in the Landes southwestern region after a delay due to high numbers of infections with the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Masks have no longer been mandatory outside since June 16 and a national night-time curfew ended on June 20.

On June 9, cafes, bars, and restaurants fully reopened and sports halls, spas, swimming pools, and casinos resumed operation.

Shops, museums, cinemas and theatres reopened on May 19.

GERMANY

Germany said it aimed to lift all remaining coronavirus-linked social and economic curbs as soon as everyone has been offered a vaccine, which should happen during August.

General travel warnings for regions with a seven-day coronavirus incidence of below 200 were lifted starting July 1.

A rule which forced companies to allow working from home was lifted on June 30.

Since May 12, travellers have been able to enter the country without the need to quarantine, except those arriving from risk areas.

Those fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 had quarantine rules eased on May 9, with a lifting of curfews and the obligation to provide a negative test result to visit a hairdresser, a zoo or to go shopping.

GREECE

Remaining late night curfews and the requirement for self-testing for fully vaccinated workers were lifted from June 28 and the government allowed more people on organised beaches and up to 10 people to sit together in restaurants.

Mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors ended on June 24.

ICELAND

Iceland lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on June 26.

INDIA

Federally-protected monuments opened to tourists on June 16.

On June 14, all New Delhi’s shops and malls re-opened, although bars, gyms, salons, cinemas and parks remained shut. Some businesses in Tamil Nadu, known for its automobile industry, were allowed to bring back 50% of employees and salons and liquor shops reopened. In Bengaluru, capital of Karnataka state, businesses were allowed to partially reopen, though strict night and weekend curfews remained in place.

From June 7, the state of Maharashtra allowed malls, movie theatres, restaurants and offices to open regularly in districts where the positivity rate has fallen below 5%.

INDONESIA

The country imposed emergency measures from July 3 until July 20 to contain a spike in cases, tightening curbs on movement, office work, dining and air travel on Java and Bali islands.

ISRAEL

Israel told its citizens on June 24 they must again wear masks indoors, 10 days after being allowed to ditch them, amid a sustained surge in coronavirus infections attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant.

The country reopened its borders to tourists on May 23. Under a pilot programme, it gave the green light to visits by 20 groups of between five and 30 tourists from countries including the United States, Britain and Germany. It hopes to let individual tourists in from July.

ITALY

People were able to stop wearing masks outdoors from June 28 and a nightly curfew was scrapped on June 21.

Indoor service at restaurants resumed from June 1.

Italy lifted quarantine restrictions for travellers arriving from European and Schengen countries, as well as Britain and Israel, from May 15.

Coffee bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres partially reopened in most regions on April 26.

JAPAN

Japan is considering barring all but VIP spectators from the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, a newspaper said on July 6, ahead of talks with the International Olympic Committee on July 8. Organisers have already banned spectators from overseas.

Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures are among areas under a ‘quasi’ state of emergency set to run through July 11 and the recent uptick in infections has officials leaning towards keeping restrictions in place, government sources have told Reuters.

That would cap spectators at 5,000. Olympics organisers have said spectators will be allowed up to half of venue capacity or a maximum of 10,000 provided the emergency restrictions are lifted. Some members of the ruling coalition are beginning to favour having no spectators at the Olympics, the sources said.

NETHERLANDS

Most group size limits were lifted from June 26. People are not required to wear face masks anywhere except for public transport and airports, where distancing is not possible. Bars and restaurants have reopened.

POLAND

Limits for concerts and sports events were raised to 50% of seats from June 26, with hotel capacity at up to 75%. From June 13, churches can be at up to 50% of capacity. People who have been vaccinated are not counted in the capacity limits.

Large indoor events with up to 50 people were allowed from May 28, a number that was tripled on June 6.

Poland reopened shopping centres, hotels, restaurants cinemas, theatres and concert halls in May. Indoor dining, indoor sports facilities and swimming pools reopened on May 28.

QATAR

From May 28, Qatar allowed leisure, education centres, restaurants, gyms, pools and salons to operate at limited capacity, but bans on weddings, conferences and exhibitions remain in place.

Local and international sporting events can take place with fully vaccinated fans in open-space venues at 30% capacity.

SOUTH KOREA

The government had said it would relax social distancing measures in July, but case numbers shot up and authorities in Seoul and surrounding areas extended restrictions for another week to July 7.

From July 1, fully vaccinated overseas visitors can apply for exemptions from mandatory two-week quarantine if they are visiting family or travelling for the purpose of business, academic or public interest.

From July, masks are no longer required outdoors for those vaccinated with at least one shot.

From June 14, South Korea allowed up to 4,000 people to attend concerts and other cultural shows. Sports stadiums can operate at 30% to 50% capacity, depending on the districts.

SPAIN

Fresh outbreaks in July have prompted several regions, including Catalonia and Cantabria, to consider reimposing restrictions on nightlife and social events.

The country lifted a blanket obligation to wear masks outdoors on June 26.

From May 24, it allowed travel from low-risk non-EU countries without a negative PCR test. From June 7, vaccinated people from anywhere in the world could enter.

Curfews were lifted across most of Spain on May 9.

It will lift capacity restrictions in football and basketball games from the next season.

SWEDEN

Sweden lifted curbs on restaurants and bar opening hours from July 1, and the number of seated spectators at outdoor stadiums will rise to 3,000 from 500.

THAILAND

Thailand said on July 4 it would allow some construction projects to resume in its capital and surrounding provinces but most sites and workers’ camps would remain closed due to the country’s biggest coronavirus outbreak to date.

A tourism pilot began on July 1 on the country’s most popular island, Phuket. On June 16, the country had said it aimed to fully reopen to visitors within 120 days.

TURKEY

Sunday lockdowns and weekday curfews, as well as public transport restrictions, were lifted on July 1, with music events, including concerts, allowed until midnight.

UNITED STATES

The United States is still considering when to lift its COVID-19 travel restrictions for international visitors, but does not intend to ultimately require coronavirus vaccinations for entry, the White House said on June 30.

On June 15, the state of New York lifted all state-mandated restrictions, including capacity limits of 50% for retailers and 33% for gyms. Mitigation measures are still required in public transit and healthcare settings.

California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut have also lifted most emergency measures.

On May 3, New York City allowed drinking at an indoor bar for the first time in months.

New York City and Los Angeles plan to fully reopen schools from September.

(Compiled by Vladimir Sadykov, Dagmarah Mackos and Federica Urso; Editing by Milla Nissi and Philippa Fletcher)

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Memorial service held for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, killed in N.S. mass shooting

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HALIFAX — An RCMP officer who was among 22 people killed in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting was remembered Wednesday during a regimental service in Halifax for her “fierce” character and brave actions.

People lined a street leading to the service for Const. Heidi Stevenson, watching as Mounties and municipal police marched, bagpipers and drummers played, and a hearse brought the officer’s urn to the ceremony at the Cole Harbour hockey arena.

COVID-19 restrictions had delayed the official ceremony, though a family funeral took place five days after Stevenson was killed.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said during the service that Stevenson would be remembered for “her courage and strength of character.”

She said the force will remember Stevenson’s “heroism that day and the bravery she demonstrated and the actions she took to protect the community she cared so deeply about.”

A public inquiry into the mass shooting has indicated that the veteran officer was racing to support an injured colleague on April 19, 2020, when the fatal encounter occurred on a highway interchange about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.

The 48-year-old officer died in a gunfight with the killer, who had jumped a lane of traffic in his replica police vehicle in order to drive the wrong way down a ramp and slam into Stevenson’s cruiser.

Public inquiry documents say bullet fragments from Stevenson’s pistol “likely” struck the killer’s head, and — about 35 minutes later — blood on his forehead tipped off an officer who shot and killed the gunman at a gas station.

The inquiry has also noted that Stevenson had at 8:44 a.m. that morning called for the public to be notified about the killer driving a replica RCMP vehicle. Her request never received a response.

During the service, four friends noted her strong personality and sense of justice.

Her longtime friend Angela McKnight described Stevenson as a “fierce woman” who chose the RCMP over kinesiology and developed physical strength through playing rugby at university.

She said Stevenson had to undergo laser eye surgery and overcome a torn knee ligament in order to make it into the RCMP following her graduation.

“Heidi surrounded herself with strong women focused on supporting each other,” she said. “I know no better … no tougher, more determined woman than her.”

Childhood friend Nona Heinbecker recalled Stevenson’s sense of loyalty to her female friends, telling those gathered how the officer had happily found a spot to sleep on a hospital floor when Heinbecker was in labour.

People watching the procession to the service also described their admiration for Stevenson, who is survived by her husband and two children.

Randy Stevenson, a military veteran, and Jan Hill, whose husband had worked with the constable, were among those waiting on the sidewalk for the procession.

The veteran, who is not related to the fallen Mountie, described her as exemplifying “what the police and the military are about,” while Hill praised the officer’s deep involvement in her community of Dartmouth, N.S.

Heidi Stevenson grew up in Antigonish, N.S., and attended university in Nova Scotia. She was with the Mounties for 23 years, developing expertise in drug recognition, general duty policing and communications. She also spent time in Ottawa as part of the RCMP musical ride, even though she had no previous experience with horses.

In a statement provided to the inquiry, the Stevenson family said community support was helpful following her killing. “There were months of meals provided and seeing the Nova Scotia Strong stickers on everyone’s car meant so much. The phone call from the Prime Minister was very personal,” the family said in their statement.

Police estimated about 1,300 people attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live.

The Anglican minister presiding at the service noted Stevenson’s Christian faith, and quoted from a New Testament text emphasizing that hope, faith and love “abide,” and that love is the greatest of the three due to its eternal nature.

Rev. Katherine Bourbonniere said during her homily that even in death, “she (Stevenson) will constantly be trying to touch you in different ways.”

She recalled accompanying Stevenson when she drove to homes to notify next of kin of a death. “I saw her love in her job and in her position many a time. She would show compassion for every person she met, and it was … beautiful,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Explosive devices found in a vehicle connected to B.C. bank robbers killed

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SAANICH, B.C. — Multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle related to the two suspects who were gunned down outside a bank in Saanich, B.C.

Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie said Wednesday an RCMP explosive disposal unit was able to transfer the devices from the vehicle to a local landfill and destroy them.

Police had evacuated the area shortly after the shooting on Tuesday as the RCMP’s explosives disposal unit was called in.

Six officers were shot and two suspects were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday.

Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care, while another officer will require more surgeries.

He said he spoke with one of the officers in hospital and said the police department will be there to support him.

“We’re here for his family … to let him know that the policing community is behind him 100 per cent.”

The chief said police are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect, although they don’t believe there’s a risk to the public.

He said police were acting on vague information.

“Our goal was to keep the public safe,” he said of police ordering residents near the bank to stay inside on Tuesday.

Police said in a statement that they aren’t able to confirm identities, background or motive of the suspects.

Duthie said work is underway to try to confirm the suspects’ names.

Duthie has looked at much of the video footage of the incident and said it’s a miracle that no one else died.

“It’s astonishing that there was no other citizen or member of the public injured,” he said, crediting the quick actions of officers who responded.

“Both patrol officers and Greater Victoria emergency response officers (put) themselves in harm’s way to bring it to a successful and safe conclusion as quickly as possible.”

A woman trapped inside the bank during the robbery told CFAX radio she was in a meeting with the manager when she heard a loud explosion and then silence.

Shelli Fryer, 59, of Langford said she looked from the doorway and a few feet from her was “a man in full assault gear, holding an assault rifle.”

Fryer said the masked man was wearing all black, had an armoured vest over his jacket and was holding a black rifle that was shorter and stockier than what she was used to seeing in the media.

“The energy from them was completely calm,” she said.

She heard one gunman quietly say to the manager, “vault,” and the manager handed him the keys and they both walked out of the office, she said.

Fryer said the other suspect was pacing the floor, just walking back and forth past the office, “like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something.”

The robbers put all 22 people who were in the bank against a wall in a back hallway and they waited for what felt like an eternity, she said. “We heard nothing at all of what was transpiring outside, we couldn’t hear sirens.”

She heard in a loud voice, “Police!” and then a hail of gunfire, and everybody ran to hide.

Fryer said every one of the police officers involved in the “absolutely insane incident” handled themselves professionally, and then later treated those who were in the bank with kindness and concern.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Montreal police announce second arrest in drive-by shooting that killed 15-year-old

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Montreal police announced Wednesday they have arrested a second person in the drive-by shooting death of a 15-year-old girl last year.

Cmdr. Paul Verreault, head of the Montreal police service’s major crimes division, said a 27-year-old man was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with the February 2021 killing of Meriem Boundaoui.

Police believe the suspect arrested Wednesday and Salim Touaibi, who was arrested Monday, were “directly involved” in the shooting, Verreault told reporters Wednesday.

“These two people were in the vehicle at the time of the event,” he said, but he declined to comment further on what role each of them is alleged to have played in the crime.

“We’re still very early in the investigation,” he said. “This is an investigation that is still ongoing.”

Touaibi, 26, faces one charge of first-degree murder and four charges of attempted murder.

Verreault said he couldn’t say when the man arrested Wednesday, whose name was not released, would appear in court. He said police arrested four other people Wednesday morning who are allegedly part of a criminal group linked to the two men.

He said the shooting came after the escalation of a conflict between that group and another criminal group, but he did not provide more details. The four other people arrested will face charges of drug trafficking, uttering threats and assault, he said.

Boundaoui was sitting in a car with another person when a second car drove up and someone opened fire. Boundaoui and a 21-year-old man who was on the sidewalk were hit by bullets. Boundaoui had no link to the conflict, Verreault said.

Montreal’s interim police chief, Sophie Roy, said she hopes the arrests will give Boundaoui’s family some comfort.

“Like the rest of the public, we were shocked by the murder of young Meriem and other young people,” she told reporters. “We may be police officers, but we’re also humans with families and children.”

Boundaoui was the first of several young people to die violently in the past year and a half in Montreal, prompting widespread concern and calls to do more to reduce gun violence in the city.

Montreal has had one of the lowest homicide rates of major cities in Canada. In 2020, the most recent year for which data was available, the homicide rate in Montreal was less than half the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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