Thursday, July 15, 2021


Israel’s unlikely coalition: is this the end for Netanyahu?


Israel has a new coalition government made up of eight very different parties. But having ousted Benjamin Netanyahu, can it hold together?

Israel’s longest-serving leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, was ousted from office on Sunday by a coalition of rival parties from across the political spectrum. Yair Lapid, a centrist former TV news anchor, won a confidence vote in parliament by 60 to 59 seats giving the new coalition a razor-thin majority.

The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Oliver Holmes, tells Rachel Humphreys that Netanyahu’s downfall was marked by jubilant celebrations from his political opponents. But the new coalition of eight parties is far from stable. Dahlia Scheindlin tells Rachel that despite the momentous week in Israeli politics it may not produce a significant change of course on the biggest issues facing the country. And it may not be the last act for Netanyahu in Israeli politics.

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By recognising Palestine, Britain may also help proper the wrongs of...


The theft of Palestinian land is a legacy of British colonialism. The UK must stand in the way of further Israeli annexations

If ever there was a time to re-examine colonial legacies and responsibilities, this is it. The theft of Palestine from the Palestinians is one such legacy. On 2 November 1917, the foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, issued his famous declaration in support of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. In 1917, Jews constituted 10% of the population, the rest were Arabs. Yet Britain recognised the national rights of a tiny minority and denied it to the majority.

Related: Israel's annexation of the West Bank will be yet another tragedy for Palestinians | Ian Black

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Vaccinated people can meet indoors, says US – as it happened


This blog is now closed. We’ve launched a new blog at the link below:

We’ve launched a new blog at the link below – head there for the latest:

Related: Coronavirus live news: Pfizer vaccine works on Brazil variant; US airlines ask Biden to back Covid travel guidelines

Here the latest key developments at a glance:

More than half of secondary schools and colleges in England have seen nearly all their students opt in for voluntary on-site coronavirus tests as they returned to class, a survey suggests.

PA reports:

Nearly three in four (73%) secondary school heads said more than 90% of pupils had complied with face covering policies in classrooms, according to the snap poll by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

But some heads reported lower compliance with masks, with 2% saying it was below 70%.

Most Dutch coronavirus restrictions must remain in place for now, prime minister Mark Rutte said on Monday, adding that the evening curfew would be extended until 31 March.

Rutte said that Covid-19 infection and hospitalisation numbers had stabilised, but that the Outbreak Management Team had expressed that it would not be wise to reduce the measures now.

Italy’s coronavirus death toll eclipsed 100,000 on Monday, as prime minister Mario Draghi reiterated his pledge to speed up the vaccination programme.

There were 318 more deaths registered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 100,103 – the highest in mainland Europe. Italy recorded 13,902 more new infections, down from 20,765 on Sunday. Hospital admissions were up by 687 and by 95 to intensive care.

The reopening of schools in England will have an impact on infection rates that could affect the roadmap for lifting restrictions, prime minister Boris Johnson has warned, as England’s deputy chief medical adviser said infections were still at a rate where a fourth wave could take off.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said that while pupils returning to classrooms will have an impact on the R rate, schools will be “inherently safer places” due to increased testing.

We do expect there to be an impact on R.

What we do know is, or at least we can’t disentangle, the social interaction element of that rise in R. So, it’s just as likely it’s people meeting at school gates, or the different numbers of social interactions, as much as it is in schools.

Some countries should have listened more carefully when the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency in January 2020, Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergency expert, said on Monday.

The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern, its “highest level of alarm”, on 30 January and described the coronavirus as a “pandemic” for the first time on 11 March, Reuters reports.

Preliminary data from a study in Brazil indicates that the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd is effective against the P1 variant of the virus first discovered in Brazil, a source familiar with the study told Reuters on Monday.

The source, who did not provide data details, said the study had tested the blood of vaccinated people against the Brazilian variant of the virus.

France has reported a further 5,327 coronavirus infections, up from last Monday’s daily tally of 4,703 fresh cases.

The country’s seven-day average of new infections has been stubbornly above the 20,000 mark since 21 February.

More from Reuters on Italy’s bleak milestone:

Italy is the seventh country in the world to reach 100,000 deaths, following the United States, Brazil, Mexico, India, Russia and Britain.

The health ministry said 318 people had died of the disease in the past 24 hours bringing the total tally since the epidemic hit the country 13 months ago to 100,103.

Some 13,902 new cases were logged today against 20,765 on Sunday. Fewer tests are normally carried out at the weekend, which means case numbers are often low on Mondays. There were 687 new hospital admissions over the past 24 hours, up from 443 on Sunday. The total number of intensive care patients increased by 95, to 2,700.

Infections rose 23% last week by comparison with the week before and health officials have warned that the country faces a fresh surge of cases as a more contagious variant of the disease gains ground.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi acknowledged that the situation was deteriorating, but said his government was going to “significantly step up” its vaccination campaign and predicted that the end to the crisis was in sight.

More on the US guidance on meeting indoors for vaccinated people, from US breaking news reporter Joan E Greve.

According to CDC guidelines released on Monday, those who have been fully vaccinated can visit indoors with others who are fully vaccinated without wearing masks.

Additionally, those who have been fully vaccinated can safely gather indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household without wearing masks, the CDC said.

Related: CDC says fully vaccinated Americans can visit indoors without masks

The total coronavirus death toll in France has risen by 359 over 24 hours to reach 88,933, a Reuters snap reports.

The figures also show that 3,849 people are currently in intensive care units, the highest level since 17 November.

Italy’s coronavirus death toll has surpassed 100,000, according to a Reuters snap.

The country’s health ministry reported 318 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, up from 207 on Sunday, and 13,902 new coronavirus cases, down from 20,765 on Sunday.

The death toll cited by the ministry is slightly higher than in the John Hopkins measure used by the Guardian, on which Italy has yet to reach the 100,000 threshold.

The number of new Covid-19 cases recorded in the UK has fallen to its lowest total since late September, Reuters reports.

The government’s daily data showed 4,712 people tested positive for Covid-19, down from 5,177 on Sunday and marking the smallest total since 28 September. The figures also showed 65 new deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, the smallest total since 12 October.

The government said 22,377,255 people had been given a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of Sunday, up from 22,213,112 the previous day.

Fully-vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing, Associated Press reports.

The long-awaited guidance from federal health officials said that vaccinated people can come together in the same way with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.

The pandemic has had an “extremely unfair” impact on the income and economic opportunities of women, US treasury secretary Janet Yellen said on Monday.

Yellen, in a dialogue with International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva, said it was critical to address the risk that the pandemic would leave permanent scars, reducing the prospects for women in the workplace and the economy.

Speeding up Italy’s vaccination campaign will enable the country to overcome the coronavirus crisis, prime minister Mario Draghi said on Monday, adding that his government would do whatever was necessary to protect lives.

“The pandemic is not yet over, but with the acceleration of the vaccine plan, a way out is not far off,” Draghi said in a speech to mark International Women’s Day.

High schools in New York City will welcome students back to the classroom for in-person instruction on 22 March, mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.

“We have all the pieces we need to bring high school back and bring it back strong, and of course bring it back safely,” de Blasio told a news conference.

The mayor had shut down school buildings across the city in mid-November due to an increasing Covid-19 infection rate and has gradually brought students back to classrooms, starting with the youngest students, followed by middle school students last month.

De Blasio had promised high school students would not be far behind.

Almost a year after they admitted Serbia’s first Covid-19 patient, women doctors and nurses at the Clinical Center hospital in the northern city of Novi Sad are still at the frontline in the fight against the disease.

Reuters reports:

Instead of a traditional International Women’s Day party, a legacy from the decades of communist rule, they spent most of their working day on Monday treating severely ill people.

The risk of catching the disease which has killed 150 doctors and nurses in Serbia is great and their work is physically and psychologically demanding.

US treasury secretary Janet Yellen said on Monday that president Joe Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus aid package will provide enough resources to fuel a “very strong” US economic recovery, but will not address longstanding inequality problems.

“This is a bill that will really provide Americans the relief they need to get to the other side of the pandemic, and we expect the resources here to really fuel a very strong economic recovery,” Yellen said in an interview on MSNBC.

As France, Germany and Italy have changed tack and are giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 65, some people in France still don’t trust the jab.

Reuters reports:

According to the most recent data made available by the French health ministry, for the end of February, France was using 24% of its AstraZeneca doses, compared with 82% for vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and 37% for the Moderna shot.

That is partly due to logistical bottlenecks, but also because some French people don’t trust the AstraZeneca shot – despite multiple scientific studies that indicate it is safe and effective – according to interviews Reuters conducted with eight people involved in France’s vaccine rollout.

Pope Francis said on Monday that he decided to visit Iraq despite a rise in coronavirus cases after much prayer and contemplation and suggested God would protect those who came to see him from the virus.

Reuters reports:

Speaking to reporters on the plane returning from his trip, Francis also said he realised that some conservative Catholics would see his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, as “one step from heresy” but that sometimes it was necessary to take a risk in inter-religious relations.

The 84-year-old pontiff, speaking while standing for about 50 minutes, said the trip, his first foreign visit in 16 months, had left him much more fatigued than previous trips.

El Al Israel Airlines Ltd aims to offer an extra level of Covid-19 precaution by requiring that passengers supplement negative PCR tests either with proof of they are immune to the disease or by undergoing rapid antigen testing before boarding.

Reuters reports:

The measures, applied to a trial flight on Monday, were tied into Israel’s world-beating Covid vaccination drive and post-pandemic planning, which have drawn foreign interest.

Like other countries, Israel requires negative PCR tests of incoming and departing travellers.

The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been accused of squandering public money and trying to distract from his country’s Covid catastrophe by sending a high-level delegation to Israel to learn about a little-tested nasal spray that Brazil’s leader has called “miraculous”.

The three-day mission – involving Bolsonaro’s foreign minister, his son Eduardo and a friend with no scientific background – began on Sunday and was greeted with widespread derision in Brazil, as Covid death toll soared to record levels.

There have been a further 164 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 205,202.

Public Health Wales reported no further deaths, with the total in the country since the start of the pandemic remaining at 5,403.

The EU’s executive criticised Belgium on Monday for extending its blanket ban on non-essential travel to and from the country despite the European commission asking it to ease restrictions on movement.

Reuters reports:

Highlighting how the bloc’s 27 countries struggle to stick to a unified line in battling the Covid-19 pandemic, Germany has equally ignored a call from the commission in late February to roll back its latest curbs on travel and borders.

In laying out plans for gradually restarting more social and public activities from May, prime minister Alexander de Croo said last Friday that Belgium’s ban on foreign travel would be extended by more than two weeks to 18 April.

A defunct luxury hotel in Cambodia’s capital finished conversion into a 500-room coronavirus hospital on Monday, as authorities enforced a new law imposing criminal punishments for violating health rules and infections continued to rise.

The Associated Press reports:

The Great Duke Phnom Penh hasn’t been in operation for two years, and is now set up to treat virus patients amid a third wave of the pandemic in Cambodia.

Prime minister Hun Sen assigned Gen. Hun Manet, his eldest son and a powerful army chief, to lead the two-day effort to turn the hotel into a temporary hospital. The property is currently owned by a Chinese businessman who renamed it after purchasing it from a Cambodian tycoon.

The Covid-19 pandemic has achieved what many mayors across Europe have tried and failed to do: wipe out tens of thousands of Airbnbs from city centres and so help lower rental costs for locals, in some places by as much as 15%.

Reuters reports:

While Europe’s cities have long welcomed tourists, critics say the surge of properties listed on short-lettings site Airbnb in recent years had priced many locals out of their own housing markets, turning historic neighbourhoods into soulless spaces.

Property management companies and landlords contacted by Reuters in cities including Lisbon, Barcelona, Prague, and Venice said the collapse of tourism in the pandemic meant some hosts had now replaced holidaymakers with mid- to long-term tenants, moved in themselves, or given up properties altogether.

Italy has approved the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people aged over 65, the Italian health ministry said on Monday.

The green light for the use of the jab in the elderly was given after the Italian government’s initial doubts over the vaccine’s efficacy among those aged over 65, citing a lack of data.

The US federal government should be able to launch the delivery of $1,400 checks to around 160m American households almost immediately once Congress finalises the new coronavirus aid bill and president Joe Biden signs it, tax experts say.

Reuters reports:

Some Americans might see direct payments as soon as this week if the bill passes the House of Representatives on Tuesday as expected, compared with several weeks’ lag in April 2020. Nearly 160mhouseholds are expected to get payments, the White House estimates.

The Treasury Department’s Internal Revenue Service will have new challenges on its hands, though, thanks to the $1.9tn relief bill. Incarcerated people, those with non-citizen spouses and relatives of those who died in 2020 will be eligible for payments.

Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his wife, Asma, have tested positive for Covid-19 after showing minor symptoms, the president’s office said in a statement on Monday.

It said they were both in good health and would continue to work while in isolation at home, Reuters reports.

UK parents of children under the age of four are significantly more likely to be hesitant about taking a coronavirus vaccine than those without dependent children, figures show.

PA Media reports:

Younger adults, black and black British adults, renters, lower earners and those living in the most deprived areas are also more likely to be hesitant, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

It said 94% of those surveyed were positive about the vaccine, up from 78% in December when the data was first collected.

Almost one-third of worldwide holiday destinations are completely closed to international tourists because of the “persistent seriousness of the epidemiological situation”, the United Nations’ tourism body has said in a report.

At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32%, were completely closed to international tourism – including 30 in Asia and the Pacific, 15 in Europe and 11 in Africa.

Andrew Sparrow’s UK Covid blog is now live but stay right here for the global news as it breaks.

Related: UK Covid live news: minister defends pupil isolation after rapid test results as schools return in England

Israel has begun vaccinating Palestinians who hold permits to work in Jewish settlements in the occupied territory and inside the Jewish state, AFP reports.

Some 100,000 Palestinian labourers from the West Bank work in Israel and its settlements.

If you’re just joining me, here’s a summary of today’s main news so far:

Thailand will reduce mandatory quarantine from 14 to seven days from April for foreigners vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the health minister, Anutin Charnvirankul.

Reuters report that travellers must have had a vaccination administered within three months of the travel period and travellers will be required to show negative Covid-19 test results.

The French government has warned it could make it compulsory for health workers to be vaccinated after the prime minister revealed only 40% had been inoculated, reports our Paris correspondent, Kim Willsher.

Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman, urged those working in the health sector, who have been a priority for Covid-19 vaccinations for weeks, to get vaccinated.

Hong Kong’s top officials said on Monday that the city’s vaccine programme would be expanded to include more priority groups including teachers and delivery workers, as fears grow over a series of adverse reactions following the vaccine rollout.

At least two people have died and several fallen seriously ill after receiving a vaccination by China’s Sinovac. The government has said it is still assessing the causality between the incidents and the vaccine and would report findings as soon as possible.

The tiny south-east Asian nation of East Timor will put its capital city, Dili, into lockdown for the first time amid fears it could be facing its first local outbreak, reports Reuters.

It said the measure was because of a “high probability of community transmission”.

It is forbidden to travel, by land, sea or air, out of this municipality, except in duly justified cases for reasons of safety, public health, humanitarian or other that are necessary for the accomplishment of the public interest.

South Korean health officials have found no link between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and several recent deaths, reports Reuters:

Health officials had been investigating the deaths of eight people with underlying conditions who had adverse reactions after receiving AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, but said they found no evidence that the shots played a role.

“We’ve tentatively concluded that it was difficult to establish any link between their adverse reaction after being vaccinated, and their deaths,” Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.

Poland could this week record up to 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day, according to the Polish health ministry, reports Reuters.

In addition, a ministry spokesman told the private radio station Radio Plus that Poles should expect restrictions during the Easter holidays.

Prof Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool and a member of Sage, said schools were “absolutely” safe for children but that it was “inevitable that we will see a rise in cases”.

However, he said it was not so important if the R number rose slightly, saying it was more about “the absolute number of cases going to hospital and needing intensive care”.

The subtle question about transmission and teachers, and bringing it home, well the school infection survey is showing that primary school children are half as likely to have had it and probably half as likely to transmit it.

Secondary school children (are) slightly less protected because as they become adolescents they effectively have the biology of an adult, but even there, they’re half to a quarter as likely to have had it and transmit it.

Russia has reported 10,253 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, including 1,421 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,333,029 since the pandemic began.

The government’s coronavirus taskforce said 379 people had died, bringing the official death toll to 89,473.

Hundreds of pharmacies in England could be forced to close because the Treasury is demanding repayment of emergency loans it gave them to help stay open during the Covid pandemic.

Ministers have been warned that most closures will occur in poorer areas and will hamper both the Covid vaccination rollout and the annual winter flu jab campaign.

Related: Treasury's Covid loan demand 'putting pharmacies in England at risk'

Hello, Alex Mistlin here taking over our rolling coverage of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s a summary of today’s main news so far:

Martin Farrer has done a round-up of the Covid stories making headlines in the UK this morning in his Guardian Morning Briefing (you can read the full version here):

English headteachers have described the government’s plan for helping disadvantaged pupils catch up after the disruption of coronavirus as chaotic and confusing, ahead of today’s full reopening of schools across England.

More than half of women in the UK believe that the social impact of the coronavirus pandemic risks setting gender equality back decades after a year in which they bore the brunt of job losses, home schooling and domestic chores. Women are increasingly fearful about their futures, with almost half of those surveyed in a Mumsnet poll for International Women’s Day expecting gender equality to go into reverse over the next few years. Three-quarters of women said that during lockdown it was easier for their partner to work uninterrupted. The UK impact on women has worsened because the policy response suffered from the lack of a female perspective, women’s leaders say.

You can read our full story here:

Related: Half of women in UK fear equality is going back to 1970s – survey

Malaysia will buy additional Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 doses, bringing the total secured to 32 million, science minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Monday.

The total amount of doses secured is expected to be enough to cover 50% of Malaysia’s population, Khairy said.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 5,011 to 2,505,193, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday.

The reported death toll rose by 34 to 71,934, the tally showed.

Children return to school in England on Monday for the first time since January, as the government begins to ease tough restrictions thanks to a mass vaccination drive against the coronavirus.

Throughout the latest lockdown since the start of the new year, schools have remained open to children of key workers and the most vulnerable.

Vietnam has launched its vaccination programme with healthcare workers first in the queue, even as the country looked set to contain its fourth outbreak of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Reuters reports that Vietnam has been lauded globally for its record fighting the virus. Thanks to early border closures, targeted testing, and a strict, centralised quarantine programme, Vietnam has suffered fewer disruptions to its economy than much of Asia.

The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has announced the country has bought enough Pfizer vaccine for the entire population.

She said the decision to go with the Pfizer jab was based on its strong efficacy in preventing symptomatic infection.

WATCH LIVE: The government has purchased enough of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for every New Zealander, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

A senior European Medicines Agency (EMA) official has urged European Union members to refrain from granting national approvals for Russian Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V while the agency reviews its safety and effectiveness, Reuters reports.

“We need documents that we can review. We also don’t at the moment have data ... about vaccinated people. It is unknown. That’s why I would urgently advise against giving a national emergency authorisation,” EMA managing board head Christa Wirthumer-Hoche told a talk show on Austrian broadcaster ORF.

Face masks can be worn safely during intense exercise, and could reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading at indoor gyms, preliminary findings suggests.

Scientists from the Monzino Cardiology Centre (CCM) in Milan and the University of Milan tested the breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels of six women and men on exercise bikes, with and without a mask.

Slovakia, a country suffering the world’s highest mortality rate from Covid-19, has received a donation of 15,000 coronavirus vaccine doses from France, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Sunday.

Matovic described the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses as a “very kind and useful gift” and a “great gesture of friendship”, at a news conference with French Ambassador Christophe Leonzi, local press agency TASR reported.

China reported 19 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, up from 13 a day earlier, the country’s national health authority said on Monday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that all of the new cases were imported infections. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 17 from 11 cases a day earlier.

Norway will probably need stronger restrictions to combat the latest resurgence in coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a televised speech on Sunday.

Ahead of us is another hill to climb, probably with tighter national measures before we can ease and then lift the restrictions,” Solberg said.

Mexico’s health ministry on Sunday reported 2,734 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 247 additional fatalities, bringing the total tally to 2,128,600 infections and 190,604 deaths.

Health officials have said the real number of infected people and deaths in Mexico is likely significantly higher than the official count because of a lack of wide-scale testing.

The UK has recorded its lowest daily deaths since October, with just 82 people dying on Sunday from Covid. It brings the total deaths to 124,501 and is down from 144 last Sunday.

It’s the first time deaths have dropped below triple figures in five months. There were also 5,177 new cases recorded, which is the lowest daily count since September.

Related: England’s school catch-up scheme 'chaotic and confusing', say headteachers

The US is approaching Joe Biden’s target of 100m vaccinations in his first 100 days in office United States, with 90,351,750 doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of Sunday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The vaccine doses are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.

Related: Fauci warns against lifting Covid measures but Republican states push on

Just as Auckland’s lockdown lifts and New Zealand celebrates two weeks free of community transmission, a new case of Covid-19 has been identified in an airline crew member.

The Ministry of Health said on Sunday evening the individual had returned to New Zealand from Japan on 28 February and initially returned a negative test result before testing positive during routine surveillance testing.

Hello and welcome to our continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, with me, Alison Rourke.

Before we get underway, here’s a summary of the main news so far:

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