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Fight to halt LA dine-in ban isn't over, restaurateurs vow

The Grove owner: LA outdoor-dining ban won’t curb coronavirus

Los Angeles Grove Shopping Center owner Rick Caruso argues the outdoor-dining ban in L.A., which goes into effect Wednesday night, will be devastating to restaurants and workers.

The California Restaurant Association says its fight against Los Angeles County's dine-in ban isn't over even after an initial request to block the measure was denied by a judge.

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"The CRA’s next move is in Los Angeles Superior Court next week," the association tweeted Wednesday just before the ban against any indoor or outdoor service was slated to take effect for three weeks. The rule would allow only take-out, drive-through and delivery services.

LOS ANGELES DINING BAN WILL MOVE FORWARD DESPITE EFFORT TO BLOCK MEASURE

The Superior Court judge who rejected CRA's request to halt the three-week ban until local health officials provided scientific proof linking the activity to an increase in COVID-19 cases has said he would reconsider hearings on the matter if restaurateurs provided new evidence, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The restaurant association had hoped that the county would refrain from issuing any order or guidance banning outdoor dining until evidence was provided that it posed a risk, according to filings obtained by Fox News.

LOS ANGELES DEPT OF PUBLIC HEALTH ADMITS NO SCIENCE LINK BETWEEN OUTDOOR DINING, COVID-19 SPIKE

The group accuses Los Angeles County of relying on a "questionable national study" rather than local data to determine that establishments — which are already reeling from the pandemic — should be shut down again, according to a video posted on YouTube.

The association pointed to a recent board of supervisors meeting where a health official suggested there was no hard scientific evidence linking the recent surge in cases to outdoor dining to back up the move.

Dr. Muntu Davis said restaurant-specific data was scarce and that a CDC study targeting 11 different outpatient health care facilities in 10 states was the "best information we have." The study found that those patients with COVID-19 were twice as likely to have dined out at a restaurant.

Davis said "as a public health department we have to look at the highest risks, and where we can reduce those risks" adding that restaurants fit the high-risk category.

LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS CHAIR SLAMS OUTDOOR DINING BAN 

The restaurant operators, however, argued that county data showed that restaurants only account for 3% of COVID-19 cases.

Their concerns mirror that of other local officials who fear that establishments may not survive another shutdown.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who serves residents of LA County's 5th Supervisorial District, opposed the measure, saying it would "further devastate local businesses and employees who have been asked to shoulder an unfair burden this year.”

LA County officials had previously warned that the restrictions might be imposed if the five-day average of new cases in the county climbed above 4,000 or hospitalizations reached more than 1,750 per day.

On Sunday, officials reported the five-day average was 4,097 and there were 1,401 hospitalizations.

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Authorities said the purpose of the ban is to help "reduce the possibility for crowding and the potential for exposures in settings where people are not wearing their face coverings."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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‘I don’t want to say goodbye’: Armenian monastery guarded by military set to pass to Azerbaijan

The Cathedral Church at the Dadivank monastery is packed.

The Armenian chant, or sharakan, used during Holy Mass sounds especially melancholy this Sunday – a beautiful tenor voice filling the small domed space as members of the congregation wipe away tears.

Perhaps they have lost loved ones in this war. Perhaps they grieve their nation’s defeat.

Perhaps it is grief that this holy place for Armenian Christians will pass into Azerbaijani hands on Wednesday.

This is the last Sunday when the medieval monastic complex at Dadivank remains de facto theirs.

“It is our heritage and we should look after and protect it,” says Sona Khachaturyan who has come to visit from the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

“Unfortunately it will become part of Azerbaijan. It’s painful but I don’t want to say goodbye because I’m sure I’ll be back.”

The Russian tricolour flag flies at the entrance to the monastery complex.

A Russian tank sits in the courtyard, barrel pointing at the oncoming traffic.

Azerbaijan has promised that Armenian Christians will be provided with continued access to Dadivank and other religious sites in territories that will soon be theirs.

The Russians are here to make sure they keep their word.

“Azerbaijanis are not Turks but they behave like them,” says Father Shmavan, who came from Yerevan to help officiate the service.

“The Ottoman Turks promised that everything would be okay but when the Young Turks came to power they started the Armenian genocide.

“There were a lot of promises made by the Aliyev dynasty starting with Heydar and finishing with Ilham Aliyev, but they don’t keep their promises.”

The deportation and mass killing of around 1.5 million ethnic Armenians as the Ottoman Empire collapsed is a wound which will never heal for Armenians and the huge Armenian diaspora.

It was the bogeyman in Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s wartime rhetoric.

Turkey and Azerbaijan are the only two states which still refuse to recognise the genocide.

No wonder Father Shmavan has little faith in their promises.

Now the fear and the language of cultural genocide is reappearing.

Much of Armenia’s cultural heritage was destroyed when Western Armenia was absorbed into Turkey in the first part of the 20th century.

With the territorial losses incurred as a result of this war, Armenia is squeezed again.

These ancient sites though are impressive for their resilience. During Soviet times when Kalbajar was in Azerbaijani hands, locals kept their cattle in the Dadivank monastery.

The layer of soot from the fires they burnt helped preserve the 12th century frescoes underneath which were only revealed during renovations in the early 1990s.

We decide to visit the 4th century monastery complex at Amaras.

It is still under Armenian control but is situated in the south eastern corner of Nagorno-Karabakh where Azerbaijan has recaptured a lot of territory. It is isolated and precarious.

The little white church at its centre is surrounded by thick, fortified walls. When Eastern Armenia was under Russian control in the 19th century, Amaras was a frontier fortress.

Now again it is a militarised zone. The Azerbaijani positions are three kilometres away, at the top of the hill on the horizon.

The Russian flag flies over the ramparts but an Armenian unit is stationed here for now. The entrance is through a hole in the wall.

The soldiers have barbecued a pig and invite us to eat with them inside the fortified walls. There is no electricity so we eat by the light of our mobile phones.

“It is surprising that you see me eating at a table because all my friends are still in the trenches,” says Artak Hovhannesyan.

“If you stand at this monastery and look right, left and behind the trenches are still full.”

The Russian peacekeepers have an initial mandate of five years but that will most likely be extended.

Despite their presence, both sides will need to keep their trenches manned. As this conflict re-freezes, this kind of military effort is needed to maintain the new status quo.

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Should I still buy a Diesel car as Boris Johnson confirms 2030 vehicle ban?

Sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be phased out by 2030, Boris Johnson has confirmed.

With that in mind, should you still consider buying a diesel car if you plan on getting a new set of wheels?

Here’s what you need to know…

Should I still buy a diesel car?

The new rule will not ban petrol and diesel cars from the road completely – those who own those vehicles will still be allowed to drive them after that date.

However you will not be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car, although sales of some hybrid vehicles – which use more than one type of power source to operate, usually an electric engine and an internal combustion engine – will be allowed until 2035.

Among the cars which have hybrid engines are the Toyota Prius, the Hyundai Ioniq, the Toyota Yaris Hybrid, the Kia Niro and the Volvo XC90.

Modern electric cars – which you plug in to charge – can travel around 250 miles on a charge, although some, such as the Tesla vehicles, have a range of around 300 miles.

That’s pretty much the same amount of mileage you would get on a tank of fuel – although obviously electric cars are more eco-friendly, with the transition to such vehicles aimed at cutting climate emissions and air pollution.

Boris Johnson said that nearly £500 million will be spent in the next four years for the development and mass-scale production of electric vehicle batteries, helping to boost manufacturing bases including in the Midlands and North East.

The Government will also launch a consultation on the phase out of new diesel HGVs to clean up freight transport, though no date has been set.

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Africa’s Most Famous Prophet is On the Run

With mounting questions about how Shepherd Bushiri and his wife left South Africa, it has emerged that their travel documents were still with the South African Police Service. At the weekend, Bushiri said he and his wife, Mary, were in their home country of Malawi because their lives were under threat in South Africa. They are facing criminal charges involving more than R100 million for theft, money laundering, and fraud. Dubbed the most famous pastor in Africa, Bushiri claimed to have left with his wife last week. They contravened their bail conditions and the South African government has issued a warrant for their arrest. Local law enforcement authorities had also withdrawn their bail of R200, 000 each. “If we are able to ascertain that he has left the country illegally, it means he has left the country illegally because his travelling documents are with the police. He did submit them together with the wife, and we will have to establish how he left the country without travelling documents,” said Phumla Williams a government spokesperson.

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‘Today I am going home’: Peru’s president Martin Vizcarra is ousted by politicians

Peru’s politicians have voted to remove the country’s president from office.

President Martin Vizcarra is accused of taking bribes years ago and mismanaging the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The move was supported by 105 of Peru’s 130 members of Congress – more than the two-thirds required.

Peru has the highest COVID-19 mortality rate per capita and some blame the president for oxygen shortages and the misuse of rapid antibody tests.

During the five-hour debate, politician Robinson Gupioc told his colleagues: “Because of his negligence and incapacity we’ve lost thousands of compatriots.”

The world’s second-biggest copper producer also faces a difficult recovery from economic recession.

Mr Vizcarra has been accused of accepting more than £480,000 in bribes for authorising two construction contracts when he was governor of Moquegua, a province in southern Peru, between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors are investigating but have not charged him.

Mr Vizcarra called the corruption allegations “baseless” and “false”, but politicians said they did not believe him.

In an appearance outside the presidential residence, the 57-year-old said he would not fight the decision, saying: “Today I am leaving the government palace, today I am going home”.

Some analysts, however, said the vote was a risky power grab, especially as Mr Vizcarra is one of Peru’s most popular leaders.

Among those who supported Mr Vizcarra, George Forsyth, a mayor and early front-runner for next year’s election, said the ousting was a “coup in disguise”.

Francisco Sagastegui, representing the centrist Partido Morado, called the vote an “incorrect decision”.

“We think this is… a decision that adds much more uncertainty, creates problems, and will severely affect our citizens.”

Dozens of Mr Vizcarra’s supporters were also gathered outside after the vote, many of them shouting: “get out, coup plotters”.

Mr Vizcarra became president in 2016 and had promised that defeating corruption would be his main mission.

But he had few allies in Congress, and Peru’s laws allow politicians to dismiss a president on the vague grounds of “moral incapacity”.

Head of Congress, Manuel Merino, from the minority party Popular Action, is expected to assume the presidency on Tuesday and will remain in office until the end of July 2021.

He has promised the presidential election will go ahead as planned on 11 April.

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Health

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine is looking 90% effective – The Denver Post

Pfizer said Monday that early results from its coronavirus vaccine suggest the shots may be a surprisingly robust 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, putting the company on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The announcement, less than a week after an election seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, was a rare and major piece of encouraging news lately in the battle against the scourge that has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide, including almost a quarter-million in the United States alone.

“We’re in a position potentially to be able to offer some hope,” Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of clinical development, told The Associated Press. “We’re very encouraged.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top-infectious disease expert, said the results suggesting 90% effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”

“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID,” Fauci said as Pfizer appeared to take the lead in the all-out global race by pharmaceutical companies and various countries to develop a well-tested vaccine against the virus.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s senior adviser, said that Pfizer’s vaccine could “fundamentally change the direction of this crisis” by March, when the U.N. agency hopes to start vaccinating high-risk groups.

Still, Monday’s announcement doesn’t mean for certain that a vaccine is imminent: This interim analysis, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries. Some participants got the vaccine, while others got dummy shots.

Pfizer Inc. cautioned that the protection rate might change by the time the study ends. Even revealing such early data is highly unusual.

Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, former chief of the FDA’s vaccine division, called the partial results “extremely promising” but ticked off many questions still to be answered, including how long the vaccine’s effects last and whether it protects older people as well as younger ones.

Also, whenever a vaccine does arrive, initial supplies will be scarce and rationed, with priority likely to be given to health care workers and others on the front lines. Pfizer has estimated that 50 million doses of its two-shot vaccine could be available globally by the end of 2020, which could cover 25 million people.

Global markets, already buoyed by the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, exploded on the news from Pfizer. The S%P 500 surged 3.7% after the opening bell, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 1,300 points. Pfizer jumped more than 9%. Other vaccine stocks were up as well.

Trump, who had suggested repeatedly during the presidential campaign that a vaccine could be ready by Election Day, tweeted: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!”

Biden, for his part, welcomed the news but cautioned that it could be many months before vaccinations become widespread in the U.S., and he warned Americans to rely on masks and social distancing in the meantime.

News of the possible breakthrough came ahead of what could be a terrible winter in the U.S., with tens of thousands more coronavirus deaths feared in the coming months. Confirmed infections in the United States were expected to eclipse 10 million on Monday, the highest in the world. Cases are running at all-time highs of more than 100,000 per day.

The timing of Pfizer’s announcement is likely to feed unsubstantiated suspicions from Trump supporters that the pharmaceutical industry was withholding the news until after the election. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: “The timing of this is pretty amazing. Nothing nefarious about the timing of this at all right?”

Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said on CNBC that the election was always an artificial deadline and that the data was going to be ready when it was ready. The independent data monitors met on Sunday, analyzing the COVID-19 test results so far and notifying Pfizer.

“I am very happy,” Bourla said, “but at the same time, sometimes I have tears in my eyes when I realize that this is the end of nine months, day-and-night work of so many people and how many people, billions, invested hopes on this.”

He added: “I never thought it would be 90%.”

Scientists have warned for months that any COVID-19 shot may be only as good as flu vaccines, which are about 50% effective and require yearly immunizations. Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.

Pfizer opted not to join the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which helped a half-dozen drugmakers accelerate their vaccine testing and helped fund the work. Instead, Pfizer funded all its testing and manufacturing costs itself. The company said it has invested billions of dollars.

The president’s boasts that a vaccine could be ready before Election Day raised fears that the Trump administration might pressure regulators and scientists to cut corners for political gain. After the first presidential debate, Bourla told his employees he was disappointed their work was being dragged into political debates and pledged the company was “moving at the speed of science.”

The shots, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, are among 10 possible vaccine candidates in late-stage testing around the world — four of them so far in huge studies in the U.S. Another U.S. company, Moderna Inc., also hopes to file an application with the FDA this month.

Volunteers in the final-stage studies, and the researchers, don’t know who received the real vaccine or a dummy shot. But a week after their second dose, Pfizer’s study began counting the number who developed COVID-19 symptoms and were confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Because the Pfizer study hasn’t ended, Gruber couldn’t say how many in each group had infections. But the math suggests that almost all the infections counted so far had to have occurred in people who got the dummy shots.

Pfizer doesn’t plan to stop its study until it records 164 infections among all the volunteers, a number that the FDA has agreed is enough to tell how well the vaccine is working. The agency has made clear that any vaccine must be at least 50% effective.

No participant so far has become severely ill, Gruber said. He could not provide a breakdown of how many of the infections had occurred in older people, who are at highest risk from COVID-19.

Participants were tested only if they developed symptoms, leaving unanswered whether vaccinated people could get infected but show no symptoms and unknowingly spread the virus.

Fauci said that the Pfizer vaccine and virtually all others in testing target the spike protein the coronavirus uses to infect cells, so the latest results validate that approach.

Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group, called the release of the preliminary and incomplete data “bad science” and said that any enthusiasm over the results “must be tempered” until they are reviewed by the FDA and its independent experts.

“Crucial information absent from the companies’ announcement is any evidence that the vaccine prevents serious COVID-19 cases or reduces hospitalizations and deaths due to the disease,” the organization said.

FDA has told companies they must track half their participants for side effects for at least two months, the period when problems typically crop up. Pfizer expects to reach that milestone later this month.

Because the pandemic is still raging, manufacturers hope to get permission from governments around the world for emergency use of their vaccines while additional testing continues. That would allow them to get their vaccines to market faster, but it also raises safety concerns.

AP writers Marilynn Marchione, Frank Jordans and Charles Sheehan contributed to this report.

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