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‘We have won that battle’: Jacinda Ardern on Coronavirus in New Zealand

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New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said the country has stopped the “widespread, undetected community transmission” of Covid-19, as tough lockdown restrictions are scheduled to ease on Monday night.

Ardern said New Zealand had “avoided the worst” in the pandemic, but must continue to fight the virus.

“There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle. But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way,” she said.

At 11.59pm on Monday, New Zealand will lift its level-4 lockdown which has been in place for more than four weeks. During that time, almost all businesses have been closed, along with schools while the population has been asked to remain in their homes for all but supermarket visits and short walks.

Ardern said there was no way of knowing what may have happened without the level-4 lockdown.

But she warned that in level-3 there were new risks – namely people coming into more contact with others.

Level 3 will see retailers, restaurants and schools allowed to reopen on a smaller scale. Schools will reopen on Wednesday for children up to Year 10 who cannot study from home, or whose parents need to return to work.

Workers will also be able to resume on-site work, provided they have a Covid-19 control plan in place, with appropriate health and safety and physical distancing measures. It is expected one million New Zealanders will return to work on Tuesday.

However, Ardern warned the public of bringing too many people into expanded family “bubbles”.

“We are opening up the economy, but we’re not opening up people’s social lives,” Ardern said.

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said that the transmission of the virus had been “eliminated”. This did not mean zero cases, but that health officials knew where all new cases were coming from.

Ardern was also optimistic – asked if New Zealand had eliminated Covid-19, she replied “currently”.

New Zealand’s transmission rate – the number of people each infected person can pass the virus to – was now under 0.4, compared to the average overseas transmission rate of 2.5.

Bloomfield said Covid-19 was a “tricky virus” and New Zealanders needed to remain vigilant. He reported one more Covid-19 related death on Monday. The nation’s 19th victim was a woman in her 90s. There was one new confirmed case and four probably cases, he said.

Ardern said the country would remain at level 3 for two weeks before cabinet decided on whether to move to level 2.

“We can only do this if we continue to pull together. If we need to stay at level 3 for longer we will.”

She also said she was hopeful that New Zealand and Australia might be able to create a trans-Tasman bubble at some time in the future, possibly allowing travel between the two countries, but the focus was making sure both countries were domestically managing the virus.

Despite the optimistic numbers, both Bloomfield and Ardern warned against complacency.

“To succeed we must hunt down the last few cases of the virus,” said Ardern. “This is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

To that end, a contact tracing app for Covid-19 would also be available in the next fortnight, however, Ardern said that had limitations.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against New York’s Restrictions On Religious Gatherings

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The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily barred New York from enforcing strict attendance limits on places of worship in areas designated coronavirus hot spots, in a decision released just before midnight on Wednesday.

The decision marked a major shift for the court, in essence at least a partial reversal of previous rulings, as well as a clear indication of the court’s dramatic move to the right with the addition of new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in place of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Earlier this year, while Ginsburg was still on the court, it was Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the critical fifth vote to uphold a similar order from governors in California and Nevada.

This time, Roberts was in the minority, noting that the New York rules at issue in the case had already been eased.

The newly constituted majority, however, rejected Roberts’ deferential approach, noting that New York could impose the strict orders again at any time.

“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the unsigned majority decision said. “Even in a pandemic, the constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

The New York rules imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo restricted attendance at religious services in areas classified as “red” or “orange” zones. In red zones, no more than 10 people were permitted to attend each service, and in orange zones, attendance was capped at 25.

Those rules, which the court majority found to be “severe” and “inflexible,” did not apply to retail stores in the same neighborhoods, the decision said. In an “orange” zone, where secular businesses are subject to no attendance cap at all, the discrimination was “even starker,” the court said.

The justices in the majority, in addition to Barrett, were Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch filed an unusually acerbic concurring opinion, blasting not only Governor Cuomo but also Chief Justice Roberts for his earlier opinion in the California and Nevada cases.

Referring to the more lax rules for New York retailers, Gorsuch opined that “at least according to Governor Cuomo, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians,” a reference to acupuncture being unregulated.

And when it came to Roberts, Gorsuch spent several pages accusing him of “rewriting history” in his dissenting opinion on Wednesday and his earlier opinions in the California and Nevada cases.

“In the end,” said Gorsuch, while Roberts and the other dissenters may wish to “stay out of the way” and let state officials and experts deal with the crisis of a pandemic, “we may not shelter in place where the Constitution is under attack.” There is, he wrote, “no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.”

Roberts replied with a slap-down of his own. Quoting from Gorsuch’s acid dismissal of the dissenters’ views, the Chief Justice said he did not regard his dissenting colleagues with such venom: “They simply view the matter differently after careful study and reflecting their best efforts to fulfill their responsibility under the Constitution.”

As to Gorsuch’s concurrence, which, as Roberts put it, “takes aim at my [earlier] concurring opinion,” Gorsuch had engaged in such overkill that he spent “three pages” criticizing one sentence.

And “what did that sentence say?” asked Roberts. “Only that our Constitution principally entrusts the safety and health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the states to guard and protect.”

Those words, said Roberts, “should be uncontroversial, and the Gorsuch concurrence must reach beyond the words themselves to find the target it is looking for.”

That earlier opinion involved rules that were not as strict as the New York rules. The California church limited attendance to 100 people. In buildings with a capacity of 400 or fewer people, capacity was limited to 25%. In Nevada, churches were limited to 50 people.

On Nov. 12, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America asked the court for temporary injunctions against the New York governor’s executive order.

The synagogues said Cuomo’s order “singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution” for the uptick in coronavirus cases.

The court granted the temporary injunctive relief until the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in December — and then the Supreme Court as appropriate — can more fully consider the merits of the case. But the majority said that challengers, as of now, have a good chance of prevailing if they get to the Supreme Court again.

It’s unclear how the case will proceed. New York’s Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood recently informed the court that recent changes to the policies in question meant none of the diocese’s churches or the area’s synagogues would any longer be subject to the restrictions.

Cuomo described Wednesday’s decision as a political statement. In his daily coronavirus briefing Thursday, he said, “Look, I’m a former altar boy, Catholic, Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school, Jesuits at college. So I fully respect religion and if there’s a time in life when we need it, the time is now. But we want to make sure we keep people safe at the same time, and that’s the balance we’re trying to hit, especially in this holiday season.”

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Indonesian Terrorist Burns Down Church and Christian Homes, Killing Four

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International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on November 27, an alleged terrorist attacked the Salvation Army’s service post in central Sulawesi, before burning six houses of church members. Four Christians were murdered, with three being butchered.

Around 8 a.m., the Lewonu Lembantongoa Service Post, located in Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, set up as an outreach effort by the Salvation Army in Indonesia (Bala Keselamatan), was attacked by the alleged terrorist.

He set the church on fire, before attacking Captain Arnianto, Mrs. Mpapa, Lieutenant Abram Kako and his wife and burning down six houses of the church members. Out of the four victims, three were hacked to death, while the other was burned.

In the video seen by ICC, the charred victim was pulled from a pile of ruins, with smoke still rising in the background. The fowler position of the body suggests the agony and pain endured by the victim before death.

Lemban Tongoa is located in the forest, where access of information and transportation is limited. ICC will continue to follow up to learn more about the details of the attack. The Salvation Army is asking for prayers “for the family of the victims, for the church, and for the peace of the region.”

Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “ICC mourns the death of the Indonesian brothers and sisters who were brutally murdered by the alleged terrorist. We urge the Indonesian government to take necessary measures to hold him accountable and put him to justice. Such senseless act cannot be tolerated in the country that boasts ‘Pancasila,’ the state ideology which promotes religious harmony and tolerance.”

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