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Gyms and hairdressers to reopen with new rules after lockdown

Gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons will reopen across all tier levels when lockdown ends, Boris Johnson has announced.

The Prime Minister is outlining the new rules in his statement to the Commons today.

He confirmed lockdown will end on December 2, when areas will be put under local restrictions.

Facilities including swimming pools and gyms as well as hairdressers and nail bars were closed when England was plunged into its second national shut-down.

Some had to close in areas under tier three restrictions, but this will no longer be the case under the ‘strengthened’ tiered system.

The PM told MPs: ‘From next Wednesday people will be able to leave their home for any purpose and meet others in outdoor public spaces, subject to the rule of six, collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, and shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector can reopen.

‘But without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or New Year surge.

‘The incidents of the disease is, alas, still widespread in many areas.’

More to follow

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Man 'killed girlfriend's toddler by stomping boy's head into the ground'

A killer murdered his girlfriend’s three year-old son by repeatedly stomping the toddler’s head into the ground, police say. Santos Rodriguez, 24, allegedly killed the unidentified youngster in Desert Hot Springs, California, on Saturday. He is said to have admitted doing so shortly after being arrested later the same day.

Rodriguez allegedly confessed to stomping the toddler’s head after losing his temper. It is unclear what caused him to fly into the rage. The suspected murderer is said to have initially blamed the toddler’s horrific injuries on a fall from a Razor scooter that saw the little boy hit his head on the pavement.

Rodriguez offered that version of events after bringing the dying child to a local hospital, whose staff called police to report a case of suspected abuse. His story is said to have fallen apart on further investigation, prompting him to tell detectives the real story, according to KTLA.

The murder is said to have taken place at the toddler’s home. San Bernardino Police have yet to share a motive, and say that their investigation is ongoing. Rodriguez faces a homicide charge, and is being held without bail ahead of his next court hearing.

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‘Vision Zero’ Leader Is the Latest to Leave New York Mayor’s Team

Polly Trottenberg, a key member of New York City’s leadership team, is leaving her post as transportation commissioner next month, a critical departure for Mayor Bill de Blasio as he grapples with some of the gravest political, economic and managerial challenges New York City has faced in a century.

In her seven-year tenure, Ms. Trottenberg has presided over the mayor’s Vision Zero program to reduce traffic fatalities, populated New York City with speed cameras and lined streets with bike and bus lanes.

She has tangled with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over subway funding, and tangled behind the scenes with the mayor over street space.

But she has also absorbed countless blows on Mr. de Blasio’s behalf, as transportation advocates have decried the quality of the city’s cycling infrastructure and the mayor’s commitment to street safety.

Ms. Trottenberg’s exit is likely to signal a coming raft of departures as Mr. de Blasio nears the end of his second and last term. In the past three months alone, he has lost his health commissioner — who disagreed with his approach to the pandemic — and his sanitation commissioner, who left office to run for mayor and immediately distanced herself from Mr. de Blasio.

Ms. Trottenberg’s resignation also hints at the extent to which the center of gravity in policy circles is shifting to Washington, D.C., where a new, ostensibly more urban-friendly administration is poised to take office. She is already serving on President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transportation transition team, and as a former under secretary for transportation in the Obama administration, may be considered a candidate for U.S. transportation secretary.

Her job, like many in city government, has changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Once the keeper of the city’s roadways — which, assembled in a line, would stretch to Iran — she now also manages its miles of street-level, open-air cafes.

She says that in the last year in particular, the mayor has made changes to city streets that have fundamentally shifted the way public space operates in New York City.

“We have now 10,700-plus restaurants on our streets and sidewalks and it took us a matter of weeks,” Ms. Trottenberg said. “In normal times, it would have taken New York City five years to figure out how to do that.”

Early in the pandemic, Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Trottenberg opened some streets to pedestrians as part a pilot program, only to deem the program unworkable and cancel it. Under significant City Council pressure, Mr. de Blasio ultimately reinstated and expanded the initiative. He has since promised to make the program permanent.

Ms. Trottenberg is aware of the criticism aimed at the mayor from transportation advocates as well as from the bevy of would-be successors running next year to replace him.

Long a loyal soldier, Ms. Trottenberg argued that the mayor did not get nearly enough credit for his accomplishments on transportation. She argued that his Vision Zero program to reduce traffic fatalities was a significant, paradigm-shifting accomplishment, one emulated around the country.

Ms. Trottenberg acknowledged in an interview that she and the mayor did not speak or meet “all that often.” She did not deny that she and the mayor were not always on the same page. Last year, he publicly criticized her agency’s plan to curtail traffic around Rockefeller Center during the holiday season. During the pandemic, she suggested his suspension of alternate side parking rules was slowing the expansion of bike lanes.

“I think it is natural with any mayor and commissioner, you’re going to have back and forth on big decisions,” she said.

Ms. Trottenberg’s legacy is bound up with the mayor’s. Her proudest accomplishment — the Vision Zero plan — is also his. She was by Mr. de Blasio’s side in 2014 when he rolled out the signature street safety initiative, which aimed to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.

Over the years, the administration has made progress toward that goal. The year 2017 was the safest on record for New York City roadways, an accomplishment city officials tie to changes in the way they manage streets.

Progress has not come without some backsliding. It’s hard to find anyone, Ms. Trottenberg included, who thinks the city will achieve zero fatalities by the target year of 2024, as Vision Zero intended. Last year, street fatalities rose, and they may be on track to rise again this year, something Ms. Trottenberg attributes in part to a pandemic-era rise in motorcycle use and reckless driving, as people avoid the subway.

“It’s appearing to be a bit of a national phenomenon,” she said. “This has been a year of emotion and some disorder, and unfortunately that’s played out in a lot of different spheres, including on our roadways.”

Still, the building blocks seem to be in place.

In 2013, New York City won the right to deploy speed cameras near 20 schools. With Ms. Trottenberg’s help, the city won state authorization to deploy thousands of speed cameras in 750 zones that the city said would cover every elementary, middle and high school in the city. While Texas last year banned traffic safety cameras, New York City now has what Ms. Trottenberg says is the largest municipal speed camera program in the country.

In a bid to improve pedestrian safety, New York City also lowered its default speed limit to 25 miles an hour.

Ms. Trottenberg worked with the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to implement the city’s first busway, along 14th Street in Manhattan. More busways are in the works.

And she expanded the city’s network of protected bike lanes from 36 miles to 120 miles, though advocates say the quality of the bike lanes — and the city’s enforcement of them — is lacking.

“We have cars and trucks parked in every single bike lane in the city all the time, even the best-protected ones,” said Jon Orcutt, the communications director at Bike New York and the former policy director at the city’s transportation department. “The protections they’re putting in are weaker than ever. Same with the bus lanes.”

The last year has also brought personal challenges to the job. The agency lost six employees and three contractors to Covid-19. Instead of spearheading new initiatives, Ms. Trottenberg found herself attending Zoom memorial services and trying to run an agency from home.

Still, she suggested that the pandemic had underscored how much she and the mayor managed to accomplish, with the city’s new environment almost redefining the role of the transportation department.

“I would particularly point to this pandemic year,” Ms. Trottenberg said. “At least in the transportation world, the mayor made some pretty extraordinary decisions. I think people don’t necessarily appreciate that.”

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More piracy cases in Singapore Strait so far this year than in whole of 2019

SINGAPORE – More piracy cases have been reported in the Singapore Strait in 2020 than in the whole of last year.

Two more incidents last week took the total this year to 33, surpassing the 31 reported in 2019.

A special report to alert the shipping industry was released on Monday (Nov 23) by the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre.

It warned law enforcement agencies about “the current situation of concern in the Singapore Strait”, and provided insights and recommendations to the industry players and authorities in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

The 105km-long strait south of Singapore is a key waterway for trade, and passes through the territorial jurisdictions of all three countries.

On Nov 17, the bulk carrier Asia Spring was passing through the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) in the Singapore Strait en route to China, when three intruders were spotted on the main deck, said the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre.

The ship’s alarm was raised and the crew were gathered. The three perpetrators escaped from the stern of the ship.

“The master reported the incident to Singapore Vessel Traffic Information System. Nothing was stolen and the crew was not injured. The ship did not require assistance and proceeded on her passage to China,” said the centre.

The Singapore navy’s Maritime Security Task Force and Singapore Police Coast Guard were informed.

The Indonesian authorities were also notified, and a safety navigational broadcast was sent to sailors at sea.

Two days later, on Nov 19, chemical and oil tanker MTM Amsterdam was also travelling through the eastbound lane of the TSS en route to China when two perpetrators armed with knives were sighted on the poop deck, an open deck area in the rear of the ship.

The alarm was immediately raised and a search was conducted on board the vessel.

But the perpetrators had escaped undetected, nothing was stolen and the crew were unharmed.

The ship master reported the incident to the Singapore Vessel Traffic Information System, and the ship proceeded on her passage to China.

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The Singapore navy and Singapore Police Coast Guard were informed, along with the Malaysian and Indonesian authorities.

The ReCAAP centre noted that the 33 incidents between January and November account for an increase of 43 per cent compared with the same period last year, when there were 23.

Although the majority were at “a low level of severity”, the centre said it is “seriously concerned” about the continuing cases of piracy in the key waterway.

It explained that most are CAT 4 incidents, which means the perpetrators were not armed and the crew were unharmed.

“In some incidents, perpetrators were persistent in committing crime by boarding two ships in a row within a short interval and in close proximity,” the agency noted.

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It urged ship masters and crew members to be vigilant and immediately report all incidents or suspicious small boats in the vicinity to the nearest coastal state.

The littoral states should also increase patrols and enforcement in their respective waters, and share information on the situation and the criminal groups involved so they can arrest the perpetrators, the ReCAAP centre said.

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Costs of decommissioning N.L. offshore kept ‘secret’ but public could be on the hook

At the beginning of 2020, decommissioning Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil installations seemed a distant concern.

But after a crash in oil prices amid a global pandemic, Husky Energy, which owns and operates the White Rose oilfield about 350 kilometres east of St. John’s, announced in September it was reviewing its operations in the province.

“All options are on the table, and accelerating abandonment remains a possibility,” Kim Guttormson, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an emailed statement last month.

The cost of decommissioning, and how much of it will be borne by taxpayers, is not public information, however. Thomas Schneider, an associate accounting professor at Ryerson University in Toronto and a member of the United Nations Expert Group on Resource Management, says it should be.

“That’s important public information, because there’s a high probability that those liabilities are going to fall on the public, on the Canadian taxpayer and the Newfoundland taxpayer,” Schneider said in a recent interview. “(But) the name of the game is to keep it as secret as possible, and I don’t understand that.”

Schneider says oil companies like Husky list massive, multi-billion-dollar lump sums on their books for decommissioning costs, but those costs aren’t broken into projects or timelines. And they’re not often backed up with actual capital, he said.

Last month, Schneider co-authored a paper for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland looking at the decommissioning accounting practices of resource-industry companies. The paper calls on governments and those setting accounting standards to demand more transparency from companies in their reporting of decommissioning costs, plans and timelines.

Scotland is one of several countries coming face to face with the costs and complications of decommissioning offshore oil installations in the North Sea. In Canada, Alberta is grappling with thousands of abandoned wells that will take billions in public money to clean up.

Among other issues, both the North Sea and Alberta are seeing infrastructure sold to smaller companies with smaller budgets that can’t pay for decommissioning once the oil runs dry, Schneider said.

Spokeswomen for Husky and Exxon, the majority owner in the Hebron and Hibernia fields in the Newfoundland offshore, said decommissioning costs are not public information.

Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal would not provide an estimate and said it was “premature” to ask. Suncor operates the Terra Nova oilfield off Newfoundland, but it’s not currently producing. The massive Terra Nova production vessel is docked “until an economically viable solution for a safe and reliable return to operations . . . can be determined,” Seetal said in an email last month.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Petroleum Board confirmed it does not have up-to-date decommissioning estimates from the operators. When operators are ready to abandon their projects, they submit an application with a detailed plan and cost breakdown, which is approved by the provincial government.

That approval process “minimizes underestimates” by oil companies, provincial Energy Minister Andrew Parsons said in an emailed statement. He said the province does not have current decommissioning costs or plans from companies.

Newfoundland and Labrador lets oil companies claim decommissioning cost overruns against past royalties they have paid. That means if costs are higher than expected, the government could owe companies a royalty refund.

When asked if he expects the Newfoundland and Labrador public to wind up covering some of those costs, Parsons said, any estimate would be “premature, given the current status of our offshore projects.”

Russell Williams, a political scientist at Memorial University in St. John’s, disagrees. “If we’re to believe what Husky has said about White Rose, they’re talking openly about no longer operating,” he said.

Timing aside, there’s a larger issue at play, Williams said: Ignoring the costs of future liabilities so they become another government’s problem is a “common psychological pitfall” for resource-dependent governments.

“But as citizens, we can’t afford to think like that, because we’re going to pay this bill, whoever the minister responsible for it is,” he said in an interview. “And therefore we deserve a better level of public accountability and public oversight of what exactly the plans are for these facilities.”

Like Schneider, he points to Alberta as an example of what goes wrong when these costs are ignored. He also points to Newfoundland and Labrador’s own legacy of abandoned, contaminated industrial sites, such as the former AbitibiBowater Inc. pulp mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

“There are public liabilities here that simply aren’t being adequately captured or calculated in our assessment about whether these are good investments or good projects,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.

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Tennis in 2021 will be about the chase

If you want an unadorned quote on competitiveness, you’ve got to rewind. Got to find a 1970s guy who thought public relations meant giving the crowd the finger. Got to pull out a half-kidding threat from an unpolished guy which perfectly illustrated how athletes actually think.

Like this old jewel.

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Sixth Street-backed AvePoint to list via $2 billion merger with blank-check co

(Reuters) – AvePoint Inc, a data management firm backed by investment firm Sixth Street, will be taken public via a merger with blank-check company Apex Technology Acquisition Corp, in a deal valued at $2 billion, the companies said.

AvePoint, the largest data management solutions provider for the Microsoft cloud, will be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “AVPT”.

AvePoint expects to generate about $148 million in total revenue for the year ending Dec. 31, 2020, an increase of about 26% from a year earlier.

Apex is led by former Oracle finance boss Jeff Epstein and former Goldman Sachs head of technology, investment banking Brad Koenig. Epstein will join AvePoint’s board as a director and Koenig will join the board as an observer.

A special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) is a shell company that uses IPO proceeds to buy another company, typically within two years, in a merger that will take the acquired company public. Investors are not notified in advance on what company the SPAC will buy.

SPACs have emerged as a popular IPO alternative for companies this year, providing a path to going public with less regulatory scrutiny.

The combined company will get $140 million in proceeds from a group of institutional investors, according to the statement.

Sixth Street, which led a $200 million growth equity investment in AvePoint in 2019, will continue as a shareholder in the combined company.

Evercore Group is acting as financial advisor to AvePoint, while William Blair & Company is acting as a financial advisor to Apex.

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Futures rise as vaccine progress fuels recovery hopes

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures rose on Monday as hopes that the first COVID-19 vaccine could be available within weeks renewed bets of a swift economic recovery next year.

FILE PHOTO: The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen as people walk in silhouette in the financial district of New York, U.S., November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is likely to approve in mid-December the distribution of the vaccine made by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech, a top official of the government’s vaccine development effort said on Sunday.

Global equity markets received a boost earlier on Monday as AstraZeneca Plc became the latest major drugmaker to say its COVID-19 vaccine could be around 90% effective, although its shares fell 1.8% as some traders perceived the efficacy data as disappointing compared with rivals.

“Today’s vaccine news is positive, but it is only partly responsible for the rally in stock markets this morning, which is also being driven by the news that the United States hopes to start the vaccination program in under three weeks,” said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec in London.

At 7:07 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 142 points, or 0.49%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 15.25 points, or 0.43%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 30 points, or 0.25%.

Evidence of high efficacy rates in experimental vaccines lifted the benchmark S&P 500 to a record high earlier this month, although gains have since been capped by concerns around more lockdowns to contain a surge in infections.

Nevada on Sunday became the latest U.S. state to tighten restrictions on casinos, restaurants and bars, while imposing a broader mandate for face-coverings over the next three weeks.

After data last week signaled a faltering labor market recovery, flash readings of business activity surveys due later in the day are expected to show the manufacturing and services sectors expanded at a slower pace in November.

In the absence of new fiscal stimulus, investors have again turned to the Federal Reserve for signs of more monetary support, although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week pulled the plug on some of the central bank’s pandemic emergency lending programs.

In company news, shares of drugmaker Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc jumped 5.7% in premarket trading after the FDA on Saturday granted emergency use authorization to its COVID-19 antibody therapy.

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Canada police conduct under microscope in witness testimony for Huawei CFO's U.S. extradition case

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Witness testimony in Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case this week will be largely focused on the behind-the-scenes conduct of Canadian police in the lead-up to Meng’s arrest two years ago on a warrant from the United States, moving away from her treatment by border agents.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at court following a lunch break in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada November 16, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier/File Photo

Meng, 48, is accused of misleading the bank HSBC on Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business affairs in Iran, allegedly causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions. If Canadian prosecutors are successful in extraditing her, Meng will face trial for wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit these crimes in the Eastern District of New York.

She denies the charges and is fighting them from under house arrest in Vancouver. Her lawyers have argued the arrest is the product of political interference.

Meng’s lawyers have submitted that border officials invented parts of their witness accounts after the fact to cover up illegal cooperation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

They are fighting to get Meng’s extradition dismissed on the basis of alleged abuses of process, arguing they constitute violations of her civil rights laid out in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Witnesses for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the RCMP have denied these allegations in affidavits and under cross examination.

Officers with the CBSA testified last week that their questioning of Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, followed standard procedures and was separate from any action by law enforcement.

Beginning Monday a series of police witnesses will speak to their role in Meng’s arrest at the Vancouver International Airport in December 2018. When RCMP Constable Gurvinder Dhaliwal was called to the witness stand late Friday, he said he “didn’t have a clue” what Huawei was and had never heard the name Meng Wanzhou before December 2018.

Diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing have degraded in the wake of Meng’s arrest. China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on espionage charges days later.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted calls to release Meng, and last week he reiterated that Canada “followed its laws” and “lived up to a longstanding extradition treaty with our closest ally.”

Witness testimony is set to last five days until Friday, with the potential for two to three more days being scheduled in December. Meng’s extradition hearing is expected to wrap up in April 2021.

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Secret UFO probes hidden from UK Government as military ‘didn’t trust’ them

Britain's secret UFO investigators kept their findings hidden from the Government, an academic has claimed.

Dr David Clarke, of Sheffield Hallam University, said the Ministry of Defence team tasked with hunting ETs "didn't trust" civil servants briefing ministers with their data.

The lecturer and investigative journalist uncovered the Defence Intelligence Staff's 400-page study into 10,000 UFO sightings in 2005.

He has now said its military officials often kept their findings secret from civil servants over fears the information would be leaked.

Dr Clarke added former Government UFO investigators who have gone public over the findings such as Nick Pope "didn't investigate anything".

He told the UFO Podcast with Martin Willis: "There was a UFO desk where he was an incumbent for three years but he was just one of dozens of different people who did that task and he didn't actually investigate anything.

"He just received reports and filed them. He was a civil servant, there was a body that investigated cases and it was known as the Defence Intelligence Staff, DI55, and they were the people who were tasked to investigate UFO incidents that were deemed to have some kind of military significance."

The UFO investigator added: "The system was extremely complicated and there was at various times two or three different departments of the British Ministry of Defence who were involved in investigating UFOs or responding to the public.

"He might run a few checks with a local radar station but that's as far as time allowed.

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"If there was anything deemed to be of potential military significance or something that needed further investigation it was passed to DI55 to do the investigation.

"I've interviewed most of the people who worked on this subject in DI55 at that time and they tell me, 'well Nick Pope didn't have any involvement in this, we did the investigations, we didn't share information with them because we didn't trust them'.

"He was a civilian who was briefing ministers, he was doing PR work and during that time in that job he thought, 'well I could make a living from this'."

Officials at the Defence Intelligence Staff investigated some 10,000 potential ET sightings in the UK from 1997 to 2000.

It concluded that UFOs had an “indisputable” observable presence but there was no evidence to suggest they were "hostile or under any type of control".

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