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Coronavirus: Britain beware – Israel living the consequences of trying to return to normal | World News

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I live in Israel.

It is a country praised for the way it handled the coronavirus outbreak in March. There was clear guidance and a swift, hard, lockdown.

But it is now a place living the consequences of trying to return to normal.

People wear masks on a train in central Jerusalem
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People wearing masks on a train in central Jerusalem

In the UK, Boris Johnson says “we are very much through the worst” of the pandemic.

While we all dearly hope he is right, there are salutary lessons to learn by looking at the experiences of others battling this global virus.

Is Israel’s curve on the graph a warning for us all? Cases here are now at their highest-ever level.

It’s just over a month since Israelis were allowed back to bars, restaurants, beaches and shops.

I remember the euphoria clearly, and I shared it.

Our favourite restaurants were open once again and the beach our kids love was accessible at last.

Friends back in the UK were envious of our freedom: “You’re going camping?!”

I remember too the mixed emotions as I drove down a packed Tel Aviv promenade. It was great to see so many people out again. Normality. But what would this mean for the virus? Its habitat had returned.



Restaurants have opened in Jerusalem using social distancing measures







How to social distance in a cafe

There were regulations in an attempt to block the virus. Masks were made mandatory in all public places: inside and out. The washing of hands, the two-metre rule and restrictions for large gatherings were all central to the Israeli armour.

On the morning bars and cafes were allowed to reopen we visited a Jerusalem coffee shop and were impressed by the way they were sticking to the regulations.

But as the days passed, human nature set in. Masks were routinely round the chin, not the face. Two metres quickly turned into one, then half. And as the weather turned hotter, the beaches became even more crowded.

We’ve already seen the images of packed English beaches. This weekend’s images of pints being pulled in packed pubs will for many be very comforting; normality returning.



TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - APRIL 19: Israelis light flash lights as they protest at a rally in Rabin Square on April 19, 2020 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Thousands of Israelis gather at an Anti-Corruption rally under coronavirus restrictions, decrying proposed unity government talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz.  (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)







Israeli protesters follow strict social distancing

But beware, the UK is a few weeks behind Israel. At the beginning of this week, Israel (a country of only 8.6m people) had 450 new cases.

By Thursday night it was recording 1,000 new cases – the most it has ever recorded in a single day. The peak now is higher than the first one.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement to the nation on Thursday evening was blunt.

“Citizens of Israel, the corona crisis is continuing to hit the world,” he said.

“There were those here who took this lightly. They said that the virus would go away on its own, but it has not gone away. They said, ‘In summer, the heat will eliminate the virus’. However, reality has proven this assumption to be baseless. Summer is here and so is the virus in a big way, unfortunately.”

In the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, a full five-day total lockdown has now been re-imposed.

Across Israel, new local lockdowns are being put in place.

As I write, most cases are mild but serious cases seem to be doubling every few days. Hospital overload is the fear.

Benjamin Netanyahu
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Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the virus ‘has not gone away’

Mr Netanyahu said: “I want to tell you, citizens of Israel: The easiest thing to do would be to leave the situation as is, everything open, everyone apparently satisfied, but if we do this, we will very quickly lose control because the rate is exponential, geometric.

“What seems to you reasonable now would become thousands and tens of thousands of new cases. We cannot go there. If we do not take action, in another week we will have a record number of cases that includes more and more severe cases – and I do not want to reach the same hermetic shutdown that we were in.”

As countries globally tackle their own crises and prepare their own responses, the tendency is to look only inward and not around us.

But this is a global crisis. We are all in it together. There is huge benefit, surely, in sharing our experiences and learning from others.

In Israel, the lockdown was rightly lifted. But then the armour against the virus fell away fast: the masks slipped down, the distancing got smaller, the gatherings grew larger.

We are suffering the consequences now.

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Belarus: Europe’s last dictatorship could be about to fall because of three women | World News

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This is not the election that the long-time leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, had planned.

The last five were not hard fought. No need when the entire apparatus of the state is busily engaged engineering a slam-dunk majority for the incumbent.

This Sunday was set to be one more token polling day that would see Mr Lukashenko coasting towards his third decade in power.

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko (C), seen in Moscow, is not used to having his hold on power challenged
Image:
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (C), seen in Moscow, is not used to having his hold on power challenged

It has not turned out that way.

The remarkable charisma and campaign of his three female challengers may even mean this term turns out to be his last.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Veronika Tsepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova are the wives and campaign manager of three presidential candidates barred from running.

They have taken on the mission their menfolk cannot, uniting their efforts behind Ms Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old mother and housewife, to rally the ever-growing opposition behind one voice.

Ms Tikhanovskaya’s husband, Sergei, is a popular YouTube blogger. Maria’s boss, Victor Babariko, is a banker. Both were jailed during the campaign.

Veronika Tsepkalo’s husband, Valery, fearing arrest, fled to Moscow with the couple’s twin boys
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Veronika Tsepkalo’s husband Valery, fearing arrest, fled to Moscow with the couple’s twin boys

Veronika’s husband, Valery, is a former ambassador to the US and key figure in the Belarusian IT sector.

He has had to flee to Moscow with the couple’s twin boys after they felt the state circling.

“When you receive information from two independent sources about plans to arrest you and to take your kids from you on the false charges that we were bad parents, we decided,” he told me as he took his sons to see the Kremlin for the first time.

The children of opposition candidates have been taken away before and put into state orphanages.

Ms Tikhanovskaya has also had to send her children to Europe to keep them safe.

Nothing is worth that risk.

Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya waves to supporters at a rally in July
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Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya at a rally in July

Sky News was refused accreditation to cover the elections so we commissioned a film-maker inside Belarus to document the women’s campaign.

It is a fly-on-the-wall look at the spirit which drives them and which has so captured the hearts of their fellow countrymen.

“So many times in this campaign I was close to quitting,” Ms Tikhanovskaya told a crowd of tens of thousands in the city of Mogilev.

“I’m not a public person and I’m a weak person to face the actions of the government towards me as a mother and a wife.

“But just the belief that you people are together as a nation, you have helped me get through this.”

Supporters of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya copy the three womns' hand gestures at a rally in the town of Maladzechna
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Supporters of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya copy the campaign’s hand gestures

They have drawn crowds never before seen in post-Soviet Belarus: 60,000 in the capital Minsk last week, tens of thousands in each of the towns and cities they have toured.

It has been a gruelling schedule for political novices and the stress is clear to see.

But it is their emotional candour and resolve which has given hope to the millions in Belarus desperate for change.

“I am just the same, un self-confident person I was,” Ms Tikhanovskaya told Sky News.

“But this is my mission – I have to overcome all these difficulties and bring our country to a free future and become a mother and wife again.

“People say that usually women are weak. Maybe we are. But when there is need, when our duty calls us and we have to be strong, we are.”

Massive crowds, like this one in Minsk in July, have turned out to supporters presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya
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Massive crowds, like this one in Minsk in July, have turned out to support presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya

Their agenda is simple: free the political prisoners and, if Ms Tikhanovskaya wins, hold free and fair elections within six months.

Since early May, the human rights group Viasna estimates about 1,300 people have been detained for protesting against the regime.

Scenes of entirely unjustified police brutality make it clear why Belarus still deserves the name Europe’s last dictatorship.

At a rally in the city of Babrysk, a schoolteacher gave her summary of what it is to live in Belarus.

She had spent a year and a half in detention on false charges, she said, but had no hesitation about speaking out.

“It’s a country of total deception. On TV they say one thing and in reality it’s different,” she said.

“In Babrysk all the factories stopped working, people have no money to live – the hunger will bring them to the streets.

“That’s how we live and we don’t want to live like this.”

(L-R) Veronika Tsepkalo, presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Maria Kolesnikova campaigning in Minsk in July
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(L-R) Veronika Tsepkalo, presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Maria Kolesnikova campaigning in Minsk in July

COVID-19 has exacerbated the discontent.

Mr Lukashenko first denied its existence, advocating vodka and banyas (steam baths) as treatment while his people died, only to admit recently he’d had an asymptomatic case himself.

Civil society has stepped in where the state would not, delivering supplies to hospitals across the country. It has made people realise they can make a difference.

The president appears increasingly desperate.

In a strange incident last week, 33 alleged mercenaries from the Russian private military company Wagner were arrested in a sanatorium outside Minsk.

According to the Belarusian KGB, they had raised suspicions because they were not drinking alcohol as regular Russian tourists would.

Moscow says they were in transit. Mr Lukashenko claims they are part of a plot to foment a colour revolution in Minsk.

He told a Ukrainian journalist on Friday that he would take up arms against “hybrid aggression” if all other options were exhausted.

It is unlikely to come to that. Ms Tikhanovskaya’s team has no desire to provoke unrest.

Alexander Lukashenko (pictured here with Vladimir Putin) is against imposing strict coronavirus measures
Image:
Alexander Lukashenko (pictured here with Vladimir Putin) was against imposing strict coronavirus measures

Moscow has neither the will nor the wherewithal to involve themselves in a power grab in Minsk.

Mr Lukashenko’s imagination seems to be running wild as he realises his popular support has vanished.

But that does not mean a polling defeat. The members of local electoral committees across the country have jobs to keep and families to look after.

Reporting the true voting tally risks all that.

Furthermore, the elites are entrenched in Belarus. They will not allow for this election to end in anything other than a foregone conclusion even if the winds of change are beginning to blow.

The fairytale has a few more hours to run before polls close on Sunday evening.

The people of Belarus recognise there will be no happy ending this time round.

But they know too that something in the stagnant politics of the last two decades has shifted, thanks to three brave women who refuse to let an old school autocrat break their families or their country.

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Policeman tracks down man who shot him in the stomach – 46 years after his escape from prison | World News

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A policeman shot in the stomach in 1971 has tracked down the man who did it – 46 years after he escaped from prison.

Luis Archuleta, 77, was arrested in Espanola, New Mexico on Wednesday – 49 years after he shot police officer Daril Cinquanta in Denver, the FBI said.

Archuleta, also known as Larry Pusateri, shot the officer after he was pulled over to check his ID and the two got into a fight.

Two years later, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sent to prison, but he escaped from the Colorado Department of Corrections facility in 1974.

A warrant was put out for his arrest in 1977 but he was never found. It expired in 2018.

Mr Cinquanta never stopped investigating – constantly making phone calls and knocking on doors in a bid to trace the man who shot him.

Recently he got a phone call from an anonymous tipster who said: “I’ve thought about it, and I’m gonna tell you where the guy is who shot you”, he told KUSA-TV.

An arrest warrant was put out for Archuleta and police found him living 20 miles from Santa Fe under the name Ramon Montoya – an alias he had been using for about 40 years.

He is now being transferred to a prison back in Colorado, where Mr Cinquanta hopes to meet him.

The former police officer said: “I would love to sit down and talk to him. He may or may not talk to me. Who knows?”

Michael Schneider, FBI Denver special agent, added: “This arrest should send a clear signal to violent offenders everywhere: The FBI will find you, no matter how long it takes or how far you run, and we will bring you to justice.”

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Coronavirus: Vaccine may only be 50% effective, US disease expert warns | World News

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An approved coronavirus vaccine may only end up being effective 50% of the time, the top US infectious diseases expert has warned.

The chances of a COVID-19 vaccine being almost 100% effective are “not great”, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on Friday.

“We don’t know yet what the efficacy might be. We don’t know if it will be 50% or 60%. I’d like it to be 75% of more,” he told a Brown University webinar.

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Dr Fauci warned that the “public health approach must never be abandoned”, as it may prove near impossible to develop a vaccine that is as high as 98% effective.

This means Americans should maintain social distancing and wear face coverings in enclosed spaces or large crowds to stop the spread of the virus.

On Friday, the US drugs regulator revealed independent experts would have to review any vaccine before it is approved.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would organise an outside advisory committee before giving the green light, in an apparent bid to reassure people it will not cut corners in the race to offer immunity.

Dr Fauci also urged states to react as quickly as possible to increases of just 1% or 2% in coronavirus cases.

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Dr Fauci is also urging US states to react quickly to small increases in cases

It comes after the US death toll surpassed 160,000 with 4.91 million cases reported nationwide.

The US accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s virus deaths, in front of Brazil, Mexico and the UK, which have the next highest numbers of fatalities.

States are currently considering whether schools should reopen in the coming weeks.

Several – including California, Texas and Florida – have had to go back into lockdown after large spikes in cases.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was forced to accept his Wisconsin nomination virtually in the latest virus setback to the November election.

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