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File Photo: General view of El Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain

Survivors of a mass food poisoning four decades ago occupied Madrid’s El Prado art gallery for a few hours on Tuesday, threatening to commit suicide if their demands for aid and attention were unmet.

A photo showed six people – one in a wheelchair – holding a banner in front of “Las Meninas”, a painting by Spanish painter Diego Velazquez. Others gathered outside.

Police detained two of the protesters and the others left the museum around noon, the association “We Are Still Alive”, which defends victims, told Reuters.

They were protesting against the “humiliation” and “abandonment” from the government, the association said on its Twitter account.

“Six hours after the start of our presence here, we will start ingesting pills,” the association had warned, without giving a precise time.

The group’s demands included a meeting with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and mediators by the end of October, and money to cover medical expenses for surviving victims of one of the world’s biggest food poisoning scandals.

The poisoning killed 5,000 people and affected another 20,000, mostly with incurable conditions, it said.

‘WE ARE SICK’

There was no immediate comment from the Spanish government or the Prado. The protesters said they chose the museum because culture had helped victims to cope.

“We are sick. Physically, we are 20 years older than our IDs say,” one woman said outside.

The substance was originally for industrial use but was adulterated and illegally sold as olive oil, mostly in street markets, starting in Madrid then spreading to other areas.

Symptoms ranged from lung failure and limb deformation to the destruction of the body’s immune system.

Many survivors were crippled for life.

About 100,000 individuals were exposed and clinical disease occurred in 20,000 people, 10,000 of whom were hospitalized, according to Science Direct website.

More than 300 victims died, it said.

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A magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck near the sea off the Greek island of Karpathos early on Monday.

According to the Geodynamic Institute of the National Observatory of Athens, the quake occurred at 8.32am. The epicentre was 156 km southeast of Karpathos, 300 km east of Heraklion, Crete, at a depth of about 66.3 km.

The quake was also felt Cyprus.

And in a written announcement, the Cyprus Geological Survey Department reported a 6.1 magnitude quake 350 km west of Cyprus.

“Despite the large distance of the epicentre from Cyprus, this quake was felt in many parts of the island, mainly by residents of large buildings,” it said.

The department said it was monitoring the situation.

There were no immediate reports of any damage or injuries.

The quake also shook, Beirut, Cairo and other cities in Egypt, parts of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the region around southern Turkey’s Antalya, Reuters witnesses said.

Two powerful quakes rattled Crete in recent weeks, killing one person and damaging buildings.

Cyprus Mail
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Italy’s business lobby Confindustria said on Saturday the country’s growth this year would be more robust than expected, mainly due to a more contained impact of the COVID-19 Delta variant and stronger-than-expected economic indicators.

In a report, the association’s research unit CSC forecast gross domestic product (GDP) would rise 6.1 per cent this year and 4.1 per cent next year, going above pre-pandemic levels in the first half of 2022.

In April the research unit had said Italy’s GDP would be up 4.1 per cent in 2021.

Its forecasts for this year are now just above the 6 per cent expected by the national unity government lead by Mario Draghi.

Last year the COVID-hit economy contracted by 8.9 per cent, the steepest recession in Italy’s post-war history. The firm pick-up now in place is seen resulting in lower-than-expected public deficit and debt ratios this year.

The CSC report cautioned that, starting from the last quarter of this year, GDP growth would have a more “moderate profile”.

It said that its estimates took into account Italy’s multi-billion euro recovery plan, partly funded by the European Union.

It added that, despite the “positive perspectives”, the forecasts had downside risks that were linked to the possibility of new COVID-19 restrictions, the lack of raw materials that could bog down production and more structural inflation.

Confindustria President Carlo Bonomi said that recovery was well underway but that it was important to “keep the guard up”.

“Italy must go back to growing at a yearly pace of at least 1.5-2 per cent, an achievable goal, equal to the annual growth registered between 1997 and 2007,” he said.

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A service of reflection is held in memory of British MP David Amess at the church of St Michael's and all Angels, in Leigh-on-Sea, Britain, October 17, 2021. REUTERS/Chris Radburn

Britain pays tribute on Monday to David Amess, the veteran lawmaker stabbed to death while meeting constituency voters .

Amess, 69, was knifed repeatedly at a church on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London. At the scene, armed police arrested the son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia, and he remains in custody.

The late lawmaker’s killing shocked colleagues and they will gather at parliament later on Monday where usual business will be replaced by tributes led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“What really defined him is that even when he disagreed with people, there was a generosity of spirit,” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News. “We’ll miss him. He was very, very kind, generous with his time and advice.”

The murder of Amess, the second British lawmaker to be killed in five years, has prompted questions about politicians’ safety and what action should be taken to address the growing problem of online abuse directed at them.

Detectives are quizzing suspect Ali Harbi Ali, a British national, under counter-terrorism laws, looking at a possible motivation linked to Islamist extremism. Officers are also searching a number of properties in and around London.

Ali had been referred to the anti-radicalisation programme known as Prevent, but was not of formal interest to the domestic security agency MI5.

Amess was also chairman of the cross-party committee which looked to foster good ties between Britain and Qatar, and the Times newspaper said detectives were also looking at this link. Amess had been on a visit to Qatar last week.

Police have previously warned about the danger the COVID-19 pandemic posed in terms of radicalisation as vulnerable people spent more time online, potentially exposing them to extremist material.

“There is certainly an element of more people who are at risk, vulnerable, or at risk of radicalisation would have been spending more time online,” Raab said.

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British treasury considering online sales tax, home energy bill VAT cut

British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak is stepping up plans for an online sales tax, the Telegraph reported on Sunday.

Treasury officials have accelerated work on a new e-commerce tax and are examining the details of a potential levy, including what goods and services will be covered, the report added citing sources.

Sunak is also considering a cut to the 5 per cent rate of value-added tax on household energy bills, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

Government officials briefed on the Budget preparations said Sunak had looked at reducing the 5 per cent VAT, but no decisions had been taken yet, the newspaper added.

Meanwhile, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey sent a fresh signal on Sunday that the British central bank is gearing up to raise interest rates for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus crisis as inflation risks mount.

Bailey said he continued to believe that the recent jump in inflation would be temporary, but that a surge in energy prices would push it higher and make its climb last longer, raising the risk of higher inflation expectations.

“Monetary policy cannot solve supply-side problems – but it will have to act and must do so if we see a risk, particularly to medium-term inflation and to medium-term inflation expectations,” Bailey said during an online panel discussion organised by the Group of 30 consultative group.

“And that’s why we at the Bank of England have signalled, and this is another such signal, that we will have to act,” he said. “But of course that action comes in our monetary policy meetings.”

The BoE has forecast that Britain’s inflation rate will go over 4 per cent, more than double its target, as the world economy reopens from its COVID-19 lockdowns, causing shortages of supplies and staff, and the price of energy soars.

Investors are speculating that the BoE might become the first of the world’s biggest central banks to raise rates, later this year or early in 2022.

Bailey said demand for workers in Britain had been stronger than expected and the number of younger and older workers leaving the labour market had grown.

“I do have concerns about labour supply growth,” he said.

But Bailey said he did not believe there was a “general pattern of labour market pressure” as wages climbed strongly in some sectors but less so in others.

He also said there were lessons for governments seeking to prevent future supply chain shocks in the way financial regulators had responded to the shock of the global financial crisis of 2007-09, including regular stress tests.

“I’m not saying we have the magic answer to supply chains across the board, but I think there are lessons that we have learned in terms of resilience that can usefully be adapted and used and translated into some other markets, particularly for instance when I look at energy supply,” he said.

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The United Kingdom has advised its citizens in Nigeria to steer clear of 12 states in Nigeria, saying Boko Haram insurgents were likely to kidnap foreign nationals.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, FCDO, which announced this in a travel advisory for its nationals weekend, said there was a high threat of kidnap throughout Nigeria for ideological, financial or political gain.

The states include Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River.

The advisory read: “The groups have previously shown intent and capability to conduct kidnaps in Nigeria. Foreign nationals, including humanitarian workers, are likely targets for kidnap.

“Humanitarian hubs and workers have been targeted during attacks in the North East, including Monguno, Borno State on June 13 2020.

“There’s a high threat of kidnap throughout Nigeria. Kidnaps can be motivated by criminality or terrorism and could be carried out for ideological, financial or political gain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the risk of kidnap increases after dark.

“The security environment in the North East has deteriorated since 2018 and there is a heightened risk of kidnap. Kidnaps in the North East have included humanitarian and private sector workers.

“There are also reports that Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa, ISWA, are continuing to actively plan to kidnap foreigners.

‘’In North-East Nigeria, extremist groups operate in some northern and middle belt states, including Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Kogi, Kaduna, Niger and Adamawa states. If you’re working or travelling in these States then you should be aware of the risk of terrorist kidnapping.”

The UK government also advised its citizens to be careful as events to mark the one year anniversary of #EndSARS protests might lead to additional protests in Lagos and Abuja, adding also that the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, scheduled for October 21 might lead to protests and heightened security presence in Abuja and the South-East.

“Since 9 August, there has been an increase in protests and demonstrations in the South East region of Nigeria. Protests, including “Stay at Home” protests, are likely during October in the South East region.

“There have been reports of violence during Stay at Home protests previously. You should monitor local media, avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings and follow any instructions from local police and security forces.

“There have been a number of attacks and targeted killings in the South-east and Southsouth regions of Nigeria, including in the states of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Imo, Abia, Anambra, Delta, Edo and Ebonyi.

“Some of these attacks have been on isolated roads and in remote locations, but there is a chance that they could occur in metropolitan areas. There is also a heightened risk of indiscriminate attacks on police and security infrastructure, which may inadvertently affect bystanders.

“A number of states have imposed curfews. Travellers to these regions are advised to exercise caution if travelling in remote areas at night and follow local news and information outlets for further information, including on local curfews,’’ the advisory read further.
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It was an email offering a discount on an electric toothbrush that began the sequence of events that ruined Anna’s life.

Within minutes of entering her card details, she got a call from her bank telling her fraudulent transactions were being made. The next day Robert Clayton from Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority called to say they were pursuing the criminals responsible but that her savings were at risk.

There was no toothbrush, though. No fraud department, no Robert Clayton. They were all part of a scam to gradually siphon off Anna’s life savings, and within a few weeks the plot had succeeded, to the tune of about 200,000 pounds ($270,000).

“I am still in shock, the guilt and shame are impossible to convey,” said the 78-year-old widow from central England, who did not want her full name to be used in this story.

She is one of thousands of people who have seen savings swept away this year by an unprecedented wave of online bank fraud hitting Britain, where you’re more likely to be a victim of online fraud than any other crime.

The country is the global epicentre for such attacks, according to five of the biggest British banks and more than a dozen security experts who said scammers were buying up batches of consumers’ personal details on the dark net to target the record numbers shopping and banking online since the pandemic.

The country’s super-fast payments infrastructure, relatively light policing of fraud-related crime, plus its use of the world’s most widely used language English, also made it an ideal global test bed for scams, the banks and specialists added.

A British record of 754 million pounds ($1 billion)was stolen in the first six months of this year, up 30 per cent from the same period in 2020, according to data from banking industry body UK Finance, and up more than 60 per cent from 2017, when it began compiling the figures.

That represents a per capita fraud rate roughly triple that seen in the United States in 2020, according to a Reuters calculation from UK Finance and the latest available Federal Trade Commission data.

“The most sophisticated fraud tends to start in the UK, and then move two years later to the US and then around the world,” said Ayelet Biger-Levin, vice president of product strategy at US-based cybersecurity firm BioCatch, which provides anti-fraud technology to banks.

“In the last 12 months we have seen more fraud attacks than we had seen in any other year in history. Data breaches have also accelerated, so there’s a lot more personal information out there that criminals can take advantage of.”

‘MONEY WOULD HAVE SUPPORTED US’

Unlike simple email-based scams of the past purporting to be from princes or oil barons seeking your help to shift their millions, the modern bank scam can be sophisticated, multi-phased and extremely convincing.

“We’ve seen some cases where the fraudster has been talking to somebody for three or four years as someone else before they actually scam them out of a large amount of money,” said Brian Dilley, group director for economic crime prevention at Britain’s biggest bank Lloyds.

Deena Karia, another scam victim, told Reuters how she lost 10,000 pounds in early February after buying a seemingly safe bond purportedly issued by Credit Suisse and apparently listed on price-comparison site MoneySuperMarket.

After filling out a form on the website and receiving a call from a staff member there, she called them back on the number listed on the website to check the phone number was legitimate, made further checks about the bond and went on to invest.

Karia, from outer London, still does not know exactly how her money was stolen, but believes the scammers may have created a fake website mimicking MoneySuperMarket.

The genuine MoneySuperMarket warned on Feb. 15 of crooks faking its website and impersonating its staff. A spokesperson for the company said it is working to take down such fake websites and phone numbers, working with the FCA to highlight cloned websites and reporting issues to the police.

“I lost my Dad not long ago, I’m caring for my mother and that money would have supported us for years,” Karia said.

Barclays, her bank, has refunded only half the money, saying she could have done more to protect herself.

“We have every sympathy with Miss Karia who was the victim of an investment scam and as the case is currently being investigated by the Financial Ombudsman Service, we await the conclusion of their review,” Barclays said.

FAST PAYMENTS, FAST FRAUD?

The government’s National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) agrees with the banking sector’s assessment that fraud represents a threat to British security.

“It is growing from an already enormous scale,” said Chris Reed, fraud threat lead at NECC, which he said was meeting at least every month with bank bosses, technology executives and telecoms companies to assess and respond to threats.

Britain’s Faster Payments’ network, which allows transfers between bank accounts to settle instantly rather than in hours or days as in the United States and other developed banking markets, means criminals can rapidly spirit away funds.

“The faster payment system has facilitated faster fraud,” said Richard Emery, a fraud expert who is advising Anna and 63 other scam victims whose average loss is 102,000 pounds.

Pay.UK, which runs the network, said the system supported the British economy, consumers and businesses. It added that criminals were getting better at exploiting digitisation and that it was working with the industry and regulator to fight fraud.

While security experts and senior bankers said many fraud attacks could be traced overseas – including from India and West Africa – Britain is also increasingly exporting attacks.

Crimes such as authorised push payments (APP) – where people are tricked into authorising a payment by a criminal posing as their bank or other trusted company – are proliferating globally after having started off as a largely UK phenomenon.

The country ranks second in the world behind the United States as a source of automated bot attacks, the fastest-growing type of fraud attack in the world, according to data from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a financial crime analysis firm.

Bot attacks see criminals use a high volume of stolen identity credentials to overrun a website, allowing them to set up new accounts or access existing ones.

“It’s popular to say the fraud threat is imported into the UK, and I don’t think that bears analysis,” said NECC’s Reed. “There is a significant UK nexus to a lot of fraud, our operational experience is showing that.”

HSBC: UK IS HOTBED OF FRAUD

Britain’s banks – which often pick up the compensation bill when people are scammed – are trying to respond.

HSBC, which has operations in the Americas and Asia, has hired more than 300 staff in a year to support its anti-fraud operations in its home market and increased annual spending by 40 per cent to deal with an “exponential” number of customers affected, the bank told Reuters.

“The UK is the hotbed of activity for fraudsters. Currently the UK accounts for about 80 per cent of our global personal fraud losses,” it said.

Lloyds said it had invested 100 million pounds in its defences over the past two years, while rival NatWest has 10 per cent of its workforce – amounting to 6,000 people – dedicated to combating financial crime. TSB has hired 100 extra staff to support fraud victims in the last year.

But lenders are also pressing the government to make social media platforms, where they say some attacks originate, share the burden. British lawmakers told bosses at Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay last month that they needed to do more combat fraud.

The NECC’s Reed said another problem was that just 1 per cent of policing resources were dedicated to fighting fraud, despite it making up over a third of all crime in England and Wales.

“I won’t hide away from the fact that resourcing of the response is completely out of step with the scale and seriousness of the threat. We’ve got a mountain to climb.”

This means that criminals are emboldened to target people like Anna, who has little hope of recovering her savings.

The fraudsters had told her to shift her “at risk” cash to an account on a cryptocurrency platform that they emptied – while isolating her from family by stressing secrecy and coaching her on how to respond to sceptical bank officials.

“They knew the name of my financial adviser, they were utterly convincing as FCA staff,” she said. “And they told me I could not tell anyone about the investigation as it would damage their efforts to catch the crooks.”

REUTERS
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Interior minister Priti Patel

Britain is considering a number of options to boost the security of lawmakers after a parliamentarian was stabbed to death during a meeting with constituents, interior minister Priti Patel said on Sunday.

The killing of David Amess, from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, took place five years after the murder of Jo Cox, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, and has prompted a review of politicians’ security.

Amess, 69, was knifed repeatedly in the attack on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, during a meeting in a church.

Police arrested a 25-year-old British man at the scene on suspicion of murder and have said it is believed he acted alone.

“The speaker has already put in a range of measures post Friday as we have with policing,” Patel told Sky News.

“Within that there are other options that are being considered such as when you hold your surgeries, could you have officers or some kind of protection…?” she said.

Surgeries is the term given to meetings British lawmakers have with their constituents.
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People gather to protest against fascism a week after anti-vaccine riots by protesters including members of the far-right party Forza Nuova, in Rome, Italy

Italy’s biggest workers’ unions rallied in Rome on Saturday and called on the government to dissolve the neo-fascist groups involved in last weekend’s violent protests against the COVID-19 health pass.

Last week, police arrested 12 people, including leaders of the extreme right-wing group Forza Nuova, after thousands took to the streets to oppose mandatory ‘green passes’ for all workers.

Some groups broke through police lines to reach the prime minister’s office, while others smashed their way into the headquarters of Italy’s largest trade union, CGIL.

Many of those attending Saturday’s rally waved CGIL’s red flag as they marched from an area close to the city’s main station to the central square of San Giovanni on a crisp, sunny afternoon.

Italy’s main unions CGIL, CISL and UIL all called on the government to dissolve neo-fascist and neo-nazi groups at the rally whose slogan was “No to fascism and violence, yes to work, safety and rights”.

“We ask for concrete acts, not just chatter. It is time for the state to demonstrate its democratic strength in enforcing the laws and the constitution,” CGIL’s Secretary General Maurizio Landini said from the stage.

“A country that loses its memory cannot have a future,” he added.

Organisers estimated between 50,000 and 60,000 people took part. CISL head Pierpaolo Bombadieri said participation was as high as 100,000.

“Stay away from our head offices, stay away from the squares,” Bombardiere said, referring to last week’s violent protests.

Last week’s riots drew widespread condemnation, including from Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, the leaders of the rightist League and Brothers of Italy parties, respectively.

Two Forza Nuova leaders remain in custody after a decision by a judge.

REUTERS
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Flames from a gas burner are reflected on a cooker in a private home

Russian gas consumption is running at a record high but Moscow is still ready to increase supplies to Europe should it receive such requests, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Saturday.

European spot gas prices have surged by 800% this year as demand has recovered after the coronavirus pandemic. Prices eased earlier this month after Russia, Europe’s key gas supplier, said it could deliver more, but these supplies have yet to materialise.

“I want to underline that we in Russia have record high gas consumption figures this year, which is also due to active economic recovery,” Novak said in an interview with the Rossiya 1 TV channel broadcast, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia, whose gas production and exports to EU are already near record highs, has said it needs to finish filling its own gas storage reserves before it increases supplies to Europe’s spot market. It plans to complete this by end-October.

Novak did not say how large Russia’s gas reserves were but estimated that European underground facilities were short of around 25 billion cubic metres of gas.

He insisted high domestic demand would not stop Russia offering more supplies to Europe if it received such requests.
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Chief Constable of Essex Police B. J. Harrington, Britain's Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday laid flowers at the church where a lawmaker was stabbed to death a day earlier, in what police say was a terrorist attack probably linked to Islamist extremism.

The attack on David Amess, from Johnson’s Conservative Party, comes five years after the murder of Jo Cox, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, and has prompted a review of the security of elected politicians.

Amess, 69, was knifed repeatedly in the attack at about midday on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, during a meeting with constituents.

Police arrested a 25-year-old British man at the scene on suspicion of murder, adding it is believed he acted alone.

In a statement early on Saturday, police said the early investigation had revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.

Johnson, interior minister Priti Patel, and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer were among those to lay flowers in tribute to Amess at the scene of the murder.

Johnson and Starmer stood side by side in a moment of silence before leaving. On Friday, Johnson said Britain had lost a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague.

As tributes poured in for Amess, politicians described the attack as an assault on democracy. Patel has said she will review the safety of elected politicians.

In Westminster, where lawmakers, known as MPs, do much of their work in parliament, armed police are on patrol. But in their electoral districts, known as constituencies, more often than not there is no security.

Amess was stabbed while holding a surgery – one-to-one meetings with voters, open to whoever turns up.

Conservative lawmaker Tobias Ellwood said that while engagement with the public was a vital part of the job, there was now huge anxiety among MPs.

“Until the Home Secretary’s (Patel) review of MP security is complete I would recommend a temporary pause in face to face meetings,” he said on Twitter.

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The United Nations has praised Cyprus support for the work UN inspectors carried out on the island on a small plane suspected to have violated the arms embargo against Libya.

Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric was asked on Friday about the outcome of the UN inspectors’ investigation into the small plane that arrived at Larnaca international Airport in July 2019 from Amman and was moved in the summer to Paphos International airport.

The single-engine propeller aircraft, according to reports, had either taken part in combat operations in Libya or was being used to run guns in violation of an arms embargo that the UN Security Council imposed on the country in 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising overturned Moammar Gadhafi.

During Friday’s press briefing at the UN headquarters, Dujarric was asked about the statement on the outcome of the UN mission, which was completed in Cyprus earlier October.

“My understanding is that these are inspections linked to the Security Council Sanctions Committee,” Dujarric said, adding, “I think what is very important is that Member States support the work of these experts in allowing them to do their work, which is what is, seems to be happening, and they will report in due time to the Security Council”.

Cyprus News Agency
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The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed and ready to pump Russian gas to Europe, but nothing is flowing yet because it is still awaiting clearance from Germany’s energy regulator.

Europe’s most controversial energy project, which is led by Russian gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM), has faced resistance from the United States and Ukraine among others.

A move by the German regulator last week to ask the pipeline operator, Swiss-based Nord Stream 2 AG, for assurances it will not break competition rules suggests it could take several more months before the 1,200 km pipeline gets the green light.

WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?

Germany’s Federal Network Agency – which regulates the country’s electricity, gas, telecommunications, post and railway sectors – has until early January to come up with a recommendation on whether or not it will certify the pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

While technical requirements have been met, the key sticking point is whether Gazprom will comply with European unbundling rules that require pipeline owners to be different from suppliers of gas flowing in them to ensure fair competition.

The Nord Stream 2 operator claims the rules are aimed at torpedoing the pipeline and last week scored a partial victory when an advisor to the European Union’s top court recommended that Gazprom could challenge the EU rules.

The project’s identically-sized sister pipeline, Nord Stream 1, has been exempt from unbundling rules since opening in 2011 because it was treated as an interconnector rather than as direct supplier.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE RECOMMENDATION?

Once a three-member independent ruling committee at the network agency has made its recommendation it goes to the European Commission, which has another two months to respond.

If both bodies are in agreement that the pipeline fulfils all regulatory requirements then certification can be issued relatively quickly, but if they aren’t the process could be further delayed.

Certification can be only given if both have worked out any differences that may arise, which means that it could take until spring 2022 before the pipeline gets certified and can officially start operation.

CAN THE AGENCY REALLY BLOCK THE PIPELINE?

Effectively, no. Even though certification is a requirement the network agency is quite limited in how it can prevent Gazprom from simply starting to pump gas right away.

Its toughest tool is a one-time 1 million euro ($1.2 million) fine on the operator if it starts operation without certification.

As a regulator it can also launch an investigation but any legal process is expected to be lengthy and will not result in a short-term prevention of gas flows.

Gazprom, meanwhile, said in August it expects Nord Stream 2 to deliver 5.6 billion cubic metres bcm, about a tenth of the pipeline’s annual capacity, already in 2021 if supplies start in October.

WHAT’S GOING ON BEHIND THE SCENES?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in recent months, has made it clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that playing by the rules was vital in ensuring ongoing political support for the pipeline, two government sources familiar with the matter have said.

Merkel openly said that the political basis for operating Nord Stream 2 was Russia’s commitment to continue to use Ukraine as a gas transit route in the future as well.

“Putin is smart enough to know that the sentiment among German politicians regarding the project will become rather problematic, so he should not provide any reason to endanger operations,” one of the sources said.

IS THE NETWORK AGENCY POLITICALLY INDEPENDENT?

No. For its own recommendation the agency needs a binding assessment on supply security by Germany’s Economy and Energy Ministry, of which it is a part.

“Certification can only be granted if the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy determines that granting certification will not jeopardize the security of gas supply of the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

The Economy Ministry has said it is currently working on this assessment, but has not given a timeline for when it will be completed. Should it determine that operating Nord Stream 2 will put gas supply at risk the agency cannot certify it.

WILL GERMANY’S ELECTION HAVE AN IMPACT?

Until a new government is in place, Germany’s Economy Ministry is led by Peter Altmaier, a member of Merkel’s conservative party, which has backed the pipeline.

Under Merkel, who is still running the country until a new coalition is formed, Germany recently struck a deal with Washington to allow the controversial pipeline to go ahead.

As a result, the threshold for the next government reversing the deal is very high, even in the likely event that the Greens – which have fiercely opposed the project – become part of the next ruling coalition, two people familiar with the matter said.

In addition, Olaf Scholz, who led the Social Democrats to victory in last month’s election and stands a good chance to succeed Merkel as chancellor, has been in favour of the pipeline.

REUTERS
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Port workers gather outside the entrance of the major port of Trieste to protest against the implementation of the COVID-19 health pass, the Green Pass, in the workplace, in Trieste, Italy, October 15, 2021. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic

COVID-19 health passes became mandatory for all workers in Italy from Friday, with the measure being applied mostly peacefully across the country despite some scattered protests.

At the major port of Trieste, where some labour groups had threatened to block operations in protest against the rule, the situation appeared largely calm, with some workers demonstrating but others being allowed to carry on as usual.

“The Green Pass is a bad thing, it is discrimination under the law. Nothing more. It’s not a health regulation, it’s just a political move to create division among people…,” said Fabio Bocin, a 59-year old port worker in Trieste.

In Rome, police in riot gear stood by in front of a small rally with people shouting “No Green Pass.”

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet approved the rule – one of the world’s strictest anti-COVID measures – in mid-September, making it obligatory from Oct. 15 for all workers either to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection.

Some 15% of private and 8% of public sector workers have no Green Pass, an internal government document seen by Reuters estimates.

Under the new rules, effective until year-end, those without the certificate will be suspended without pay and face a fine of up to 1,500 euros ($1,730) if they try to work on regardless.

The government hoped the move making the health pass mandatory would convince unvaccinated Italians to change their minds, but with over 80% of residents over the age of 12 already fully inoculated and infection rates low, that surge has not materialised.

The rightist League and Brothers of Italy parties and some unions say that, to address the risk of staff shortages, the validity of COVID tests should be extended from 48 to 72 hours, and they should be free for unvaccinated workers.

But the government has so far resisted those calls. The centre-left Democratic Party, which is part of Draghi’s ruling coalition, says that making swabs free would be the equivalent of an amnesty for tax dodgers.

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Britain's Minister of State Lord David Frost REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost said that the European Union needs to make significant change if there is to be a deal over the Northern Irish part of the Brexit divorce deal, Politico reported.

The EU on Wednesday offered Britain a package of measures to ease the transit of goods to Northern Ireland.

Frost made clear the EU’s proposals as they stand were ultimately unacceptable as London wanted a major concession from Brussels on the role of Court of Justice oversight in Northern Ireland, Politico reported.

“They will need to if we are to find a solution, there needs to be a significant change if we are to get an agreed solution,” Frost said in an interview with Politico.

“All I can say is the governance issue needs to be addressed seriously and if the EU is willing to have a conversation about that on which they move off existing positions obviously we will be happy to have that conversation,” Frost said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed up to the so-called Northern Ireland protocol as part of his Brexit agreement in 2020, but has since argued it was agreed in haste and was no longer working for the people of Northern Ireland.

Frost has for months called on the EU to allow some changes to the protocol to ease trade in some goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.
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File photo: People wait in line at U.K. citizens arrivals at Heathrow Airport in London2021. REUTERS/Guy Faulconbridge/File Photo

Fully vaccinated passengers arriving in England from low-risk countries from Oct. 24 will no longer have to take expensive COVID-19 tests, the British government said on Thursday.

Last month the government simplified the rules for international travel to England in a boost to the tourism industry, which has blamed the testing and complicated rules for the slowness of a recovery in air travel over the summer.

The government said that from Oct. 24, the start of school half-term holidays across much of England, fully vaccinated passengers and most under 18s arriving from countries not on the red list could take a lateral flow test on or before day two of their arrival, rather than a PCR lab test.

Lateral flow tests are cheaper and provide a faster result.

“Taking away expensive mandatory PCR testing will boost the travel industry and is a major step forward in normalising international travel and encouraging people to book holidays with confidence,” Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said in a statement.

The government said passengers must use lateral flow tests purchased from a private provider listed on the government’s website, rather than free ones available as part of the government Test and Trace scheme, and passengers must upload a photo of their test and booking reference to verify the result.

Anyone with a positive lateral flow test will be provided with a free confirmatory PCR test through the National Health Service.

Australians have been unable to travel internationally for more than 18 months without a government waiver REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Sydney will allow in fully vaccinated travellers from overseas from Nov. 1 without the need for quarantine, the country’s most populous state said on Friday, although the easing of strict entry controls will initially benefit only citizens.

The move comes as New South Wales state is expected to reach an 80% first dose vaccination rate on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of Australia, and brings forward the expected return of overseas travel by several weeks.

“We need to rejoin the world. We can’t live here in a hermit kingdom. We’ve got to open up,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing entry almost exclusively to only citizens and permanent residents who are currently required to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine at their own expense.

As well ditching plans for home quarantine, which had been expected to replace the hotel stays, Perrottet said New South Wales would welcome all overseas arrivals. But he was quickly overruled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said the government would stick with plans to first open the border to citizens and permanent residents.

“This is about Australian residents and citizens first. The Commonwealth government has made no decision to allow other visa holders … to come into Australia under these arrangements,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

He said the parents of Australians citizens living overseas may be permitted to travel to the country.

ECONOMIC REVIVAL

Australians have been unable to travel internationally for more than 18 months without a government waiver, and thousands of citizens and permanent residents in other countries have been unable to return after Canberra imposed a strict cap on arrivals to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Many of these are now expected to return via Sydney, even though some COVID-19 free states in Australia have closed their borders to New South Wales.

Qantas Airways said it would bring forward the restart of international flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles by two weeks to Nov. 1 and would consider bringing forward some other destinations that had been expected to start in December.

Major airlines like Singapore Airlines, Emirates and United Airlines have continued to fly to Sydney throughout the pandemic but due to strict passenger caps, most of their revenue has been from cargo. The announcement should allow them to begin selling more seats on those flights and potentially adding more services.

New South Wales, meanwhile, reported 399 COVID-19 cases on Friday, well down from the state’s pandemic high of 1,599 in early September.

Neighbouring Victoria state, where vaccination rates are lower, reported 2,179 new locally acquired cases, down from a record 2,297 a day earlier.

Canberra, the national capital, on Friday exited its more than two-month lockdown, allowing cafes, pubs and gyms to reopen with strict social distancing rules.

The country’s overall coronavirus numbers are still relatively low, with some 139,000 cases and 1,506 deaths.

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REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff/File Photo

COVID-19 infections in children in England rose in September after schools returned from summer holidays, helping to keep cases high even as there was a fall among adults, a large prevalence study showed on Thursday.

Infection numbers in Britain are currently much higher than in other western European countries, but have not risen above summer levels following the return of schools in September in England despite higher infection rates in children.

The REACT-1 study, led by Imperial College London found that prevalence in 13 to 17-year-olds was 2.55% between Sept 9-27, with prevalence in those aged 5 to 12 at 2.32%. Prevalence for every adult age group was estimated below 1%.

“Prevalence was high and increasing in school aged children during September,” Paul Elliott, director of the study, told reporters, adding that increased vaccination uptake in school-aged children and adults would help limit transmission.

The study, which analysed 100,527 valid swabs, found that the epidemic was growing among those 17 and under, with an estimated reproduction “R” number of 1.18. An R number above 1 implies exponential growth, while a number below 1 implies the epidemic is shrinking.

The epidemic was estimated to be shrinking in 18-54 year olds, with an R number of 0.81, while the epidemic was broadly steady among those over 55.

While around 90% of over 18s have had one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, vaccination rates of children are much lower, and broad vaccination of those aged 12-15 only began last month.

“It just could have been avoided to have this large amount of spread amongst schoolchildren… if they’d done the vaccinations earlier,” Dr Brian Ferguson of the University of Cambridge’s Division of Immunology told Reuters.

He added that while it looked like transmission from children to adults was not going to be a big problem, there was uncertainty heading into the winter.

In daily figures, Britain reported 42,776 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number since mid-July, but health minister Sajid Javid played down the fluctuations in numbers.

“Overall things feel quite stable at this point. The numbers are a bit up, a bit down over the last few weeks,” he told Times Radio, adding government strategy was working.

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Britain’s 20-year binge on cheap food is coming to an end and food price inflation could hit double digits due to a tidal wave of soaring costs that are crashing through the supply chain, Britain’s biggest chicken producer said.

As it emerges from the twin crises of Brexit and COVID, the world’s fifth largest economy is facing an acute shortage of truckers, butchers and warehouse workers that has exacerbated global supply chain strains.

“The days when you could feed a family of four with a 3 pound ($4) chicken are coming to an end,” Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of the 2 Sisters Group and known as the “Chicken King” said in a statement.

“In relative terms, a chicken today is cheaper to buy than it was 20 years ago. How can it be right that a whole chicken costs less than a pint of beer? You’re looking at a different world from now on where the shopper pays more.”

Boparan, who produces around a third of all poultry products consumed in the United Kingdom, said he didn’t think the British government could fix all the problems or control inflation. He said the constriction of labour supply would lead to wage inflation and that he would invest in automation.

“Less labour means less choice, core ranges, empty shelves and wage inflation, and this isn’t going to change,” he said. “Right now I need to be honest about what this means for the consumer as inflation could reach double digits.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that Britain’s economy must kick its addiction to cheap imported labour and that it is positive that wages will have to go up.

Johnson’s government has denied that Brexit is responsible for the strains on the economy, though no other European economies have faced the same scale of supply chain disruption.

“I feel confident that there will be good provision of goods for everybody, and we are working our way to remove blockages where we can,” Johnson’s finance minister, Rishi Sunak, said in Washington.

Boparan outlined a cost tsunami: feed costs, supplements, veterinary costs and wages have risen 15-20 per cent; an acute trucker shortage; energy and carbon dioxide costs rising more than 500 per cent from last year; and packaging up 20 per cent in six months.

2 Sisters, founded by Boparan in 1993, sells poultry, pizza and pies. It processes 10.4 million birds a week and owns more than 700 farms.

Ronald Kers, the chief executive of 2 Sisters Food Group, advised people to shop normally for Christmas and said the company would do everything it could to ensure supplies of festive turkey.

Food prices rose by 0.2 per cent in annual terms in August, according to official consumer price data, breaking a nine-month run of declines.

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A truck on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland near Jonesborough, Northern Ireland, October 13, 2021. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British party said the European Union’s proposed measures to ease the transit of goods to Northern Ireland from Britain are a “starting point” but “appear to fall far short of the fundamental change needed”.

Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, said his party “will take time to study the detail of the papers produced” while repeating its position that the Northern Ireland Protocol harms Northern Ireland in economic and constitutional terms.

Last month the DUP said it would withdraw from the region’s power-sharing government – a key plank of its 1998 peace deal – within weeks unless big changes were made to the terms of Britain’s divorce deal with the European Union.

The protocol – agreed as part the divorce accord to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland – keeps the British-run region, in effect, in the EU’s customs union and single market for goods.

The EU’s proposals to slash paperwork and checks on food coming into Northern Ireland from mainland Britain and ensure the flow of medicines was not disturbed were cautiously welcomed by business groups in Northern Ireland.

“We welcome signs of movement from both sides, which we have always said would be necessary if we were to find a lasting solution,” the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group said in a statement.

“If these proposals are to work then they must meet the tests that have been set out by the NI business community, namely that they must provide stability, certainty, simplicity and affordability.”

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said the proposal “moves the situation forward and hopefully to a long-term solution which gives our members greater stability in trading with GB suppliers and wholesalers”.

“There is much to recommend in the EU proposals and is clear that they are listening to the concerns of the local business community. We will take time to examine them and consult with our members before we give a considered final view.”

CBI Europe Director Sean McGuire said the “UK and EU have listened to business on many of the technical solutions needed to protect GB-NI trade.”

“Both sides must now grasp this opportunity to get back round the table – and agree sustainable long-term solutions that work for businesses and communities in Northern Ireland.”

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Lorries leave a ferry at the Port of Larne, Northern Ireland

The European Union offered Britain a package of measures to ease the transit of goods to Northern Ireland, but it looked unlikely to end tensions over post-Brexit trading rules for the province as it stopped short of the overhaul that London has demanded.

The EU’s executive said the measures could halve customs paperwork and cut checks on meat, dairy and other food products coming to Northern Ireland from mainland Britain by 80%. New rules would ensure the flow of medicines, notably generics, was not disturbed.

While remaining part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has stayed in the EU’s single market for goods since Britain’s departure from the EU, meaning its exports to the rest of the 27-nation bloc face no customs checks, tariffs or paperwork.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who oversees post-Brexit relations with Britain, has said the arrangement allows Northern Irish businesses to enjoy the best of both worlds.

However, the result is an effective customs border in the Irish Sea, disturbing trade from the rest of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland and angering the province’s pro-British unionists.

Sefcovic told Reuters in an interview he believed the proposals “ticked all the boxes” by resolving problems and keeping open Northern Ireland’s border with EU member Ireland.

“This new alternative implementation of the protocol… also takes care of the sausages,” he said.

The EU ban on importing certain chilled meat products had led to talk of a ‘sausage war’, but Sefcovic said Northern Irish people would have access to the sausages they preferred.

Sefcovic said the package should not be seen as a “take it or leave it” offer, but the foundation for joint agreement with Britain. However, there would be no next package if this was rejected.

The Commission says that, in return for concessions, the EU wants proper sharing of live data, reinforced monitoring of supply chains and labelling to ensure British products did not slip into the EU single market via a Northern Ireland back door.

The Commission will also set out plans to make greater efforts to explain its position to and involve people in Northern Ireland.

However, the executive Commission will not open up for renegotiation the protocol which governs Northern Ireland’s unique trading position, leaving Brussels and London on a potential collision course.

‘IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO’

Oliver Dowden, the co-chairman of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, said the British government would engage fully and constructively with the EU on the proposals, adding that the steps he had read about so far were “welcome”.

“We will look at them and engage properly with them,” he told Sky News, while also saying it was important there was “fundamental change” to the protocol.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told Newstalk radio station that the EU had listened to legitimate concerns about the protocol and was in “solution mode” and the British government had a responsibility to be in that mode too.

“It takes two to tango,” he said.

British Brexit Minister David Frost said in a speech on Tuesday that London would be ready to discuss the proposals “whatever they say”, but also demanded a new “forward-looking” protocol, one without oversight from European judges.

Sefcovic said oversight by the European Court of Justice was the price of access to the European single market, which Northern Ireland enjoys.

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