The Canadian Press
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has reopened to tourists after more than nine months.The Indian Ocean island nation closed to tourists in March, amid the first wave of the coronavirus. Authorities also closed the two main international airports.The government says a pilot program to attract tourists is now being implemented. The first tourists arrived on a special flight from Ukraine on Monday. The 186 tourists are expected to stay in Sri Lanka for 10 days.Under the pilot program, which will run to Jan. 24, 2,580 tourists are expected to arrive in Sri Lanka, mostly from CIS countries.COVID-19 has dealt a severe blow to tourism, a vital economic sector for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 5% of its GDP and employing 250,000 people directly and up to 2 million indirectly.Previously, the government announced that the country would reopen to tourists on Aug. 1, but the date was pushed back after new clusters of COVID-19 patients emerged.Sri Lanka has confirmed 41,602 cases, including 194 deaths.___THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:— Bill Trump signed into law combines $900 billion in COVID-19 aid with $1.4 trillion in spending and reams of other unfinished legislation— House voted overwhelmingly to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting Trump’s demand, but Senate outcome uncertain— ‘Surge on top of a surge’ filling hospitals in California, where virus restrictions likely to be extended— 5th candidate reaches final-stage testing in US, a crucial step to getting enough vaccines to protect world— Mexico might allow private firms to buy, distribute vaccines after questions raised about centralized control— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Health Ministry says the country has vaccinated more people in nine days than have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.The ministry said Tuesday that nearly 500,000 people, or about 5% of Israel’s population of 9 million, have already received the vaccine since the country began its inoculation drive last week. More than 407,000 people have caught the virus in Israel, and over 3,200 have died.Israel is hoping a mass vaccination campaign will help bring its current outbreak under control and ultimately wipe out the virus entirely. This week the country entered its third national lockdown, with much of the economy shut down to help bring down surging infection numbers.Israel is among the world’s leading countries for coronavirus vaccinations per capita.___SEOUL, South Korea — The United States has started vaccinating its troops based in South Korea, as its Asian ally reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 fatalities amid surging cases in the country.The United States Forces Korea says it started inoculating military and civilian healthcare workers, first responders and the USFK command team with the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday.The USFK says the vaccine is 100% voluntary and not mandatory for the 28,500 American troops in South Korea.The Moderna vaccine arrived in South Korea on Dec. 25.The government said Tuesday it will have vaccine doses for 56 million people, an amount seemingly enough for the country’s 51 million people. Officials say they plan to begin inoculating the public in February.South Korea also said Tuesday that 40 more virus patients had died in the past 24 hours, the country’s highest daily death toll. South Korea logged 1,046 new cases, raising the total caseload to 58,725, including 859 deaths.___NEW DELHI — India has found six people who returned from the United Kingdom in recent weeks infected with a new variant of the coronavirus.The health ministry in a statement on Tuesday said that all the six patients were isolated and their fellow travellers were tracked down. Close contacts of the infected patients were also put under quarantine.India previously suspended flights from and to the UK until the end of the year, noting the new variant is “spreading and growing rapidly.”India on Tuesday reported 16,432 new cases of the virus overall, taking its total to 10.22 million infections and 148,153 deaths. India is expected to start a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month.___ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s civil aviation authority has extended its ban on passenger flights from the U.K for a week in an effort to avoid the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus.The ban was imposed last week after European and other countries halted air travel from Britain due to a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus in England.In a statement, Civil Aviation Authority said the ban on passenger flights from U.K. will remain in place until Jan. 4.Under a government order, Pakistani nationals who travelled to Britain are being allowed to return home provided their COVID-19 tests are negative.On Tuesday, Pakistan reported 1,776 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths in the past 24 hours.There have been 9,992 deaths among 475,085 COVID-19 cases since February, when the first infection was detected in the country.___SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says 40 more coronavirus patients have died in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.Officials also reported 1,046 new confirmed coronavirus infections Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 58,725, with 859 deaths.South Korea’s previous daily high for COVID-19 deaths was 24, reported on both Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.Some observers say surging fatalities reflect an increase in cluster infections at nursing homes and long-term care centres where elderly people with underlying health problems stay.___BEIJING — China has reported seven new cases of coronavirus infection in Beijing, where authorities have ordered the testing of hundreds of thousands of residents.Cases have been clustered largely in villages on Beijing’s northeastern edge, but authorities are wary of any spread in the capital that could hurt claims it has all-but contained local spread of the virus.City authorities have already urged residents not to leave the city during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays. China has cancelled big gatherings such as sports events and temple fairs. Cinemas, libraries and museums operate at 75% capacity. The government is also discouraging business trips.___LOS ANGELES — California officials say hospitalizations for COVID-19 have stabilized in parts of the state but still overwhelm hospitals elsewhere, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is warning of a new surge in coronavirus cases following heavy holiday travel in defiance of recommendations to avoid gatherings.ICU units in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have no capacity remaining. Newsom says the state has prepared for a new surge in cases by setting up hospital beds in arenas, schools and tents, though it is struggling to staff them.California has been regularly breaking records for case counts, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, while officials say models used for planning predict hospitalizations more than doubling in the next month from about 20,000 to more than 50,000.___FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s governor says the state hopes to begin the next phase of its coronavirus vaccination program at the start of February and will target emergency responders, educators and people 70 and older.Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that more than 26,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Kentucky so far.Health care workers along with residents and staff at long-term care facilities are at the top of the list for receiving vaccinations in the first phase. The next designated groups are those 70 and older, school personnel and first responders such as police and firefighters.The governor says the target date for the second phase is around Feb. 1, though it could be “plus or minus a week.” He says officials expect it will take most of February to vaccinate those groups.___ATLANTA — Georgia has more than 4,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, and officials say hospital admissions are increasing at a pace that raises questions about the health system’s ability to handle demand.The numbers rose again Monday as Gov. Brian Kemp highlighted the launch of vaccinations of nursing home employees, starting at a Gainesville nursing home.The state has moved into the top 20 for most new cases per capita in the last 14 days as infection rates have declined in the Midwest and risen in the South.Northeast Georgia Health System is a four-hospital system based in Gainesville that continues to see increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients. It has put beds in a gym to care for people with milder cases, but Dr. John Delzell says they “are essentially at capacity” and surgeries are being delayed.___KIRKLAND, Wash. — The residents and staff members at a Seattle-area nursing home that had the first deadly COVID-19 outbreak in the United States began receiving vaccines on Monday.The first death associated with the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, was reported in late February, and more than 40 people connected to the facility later died of coronavirus. The Seattle Times reports that Monday was the first day long-term care facilities can receive vaccines under a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens, which is handling shots for the bulk of the state’s approximately 4,000 long-term care facilities.Along with health-care workers, Washington state has recommended that nursing home residents receive the vaccine first, followed by residents of assisted-living facilities, adult family homes and other care sites.___LOS ANGELES — Cruise ships without passengers will be visiting the Port of Los Angeles in coming weeks in a step toward a future resumption of service by the industry, which has been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.The port says the visits for fuel, supplies and services are part of operations to reestablish the ships in U.S. waters as a prerequisite to meet federal regulations in order to resume cruising in the future.Ships from Princess Cruises, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line will periodically dock at the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal starting this week and through 2021.Cruises have been suspended since March.The Port of Los Angeles had 93 cruise cancellations, amounting to more than 70% of total cruises, this year.The Associated Press
Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down
Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.
A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.
“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.
Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.
The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.
While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.
The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government
Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER
“We’ll be back, soon.”
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER
“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to
@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER
“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”
FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN
“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER
“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”
CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”
MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”
DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”
EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”
SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)
Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
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