Covid curfew, music ban on Greek party island Mykonos

Health officials of Greece's top travel destination, Mykonos Island imposed a five-hour night curfew and other restrictions and a ban on bars, clubs and restaurants from playing music after a "worrying" spike in local Covid-19 infections. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 17 July 2021

Covid curfew, music ban on Greek party island Mykonos

  • Measures include a curfew from 1:00-6:00 am and a ban on bars, clubs and restaurants from playing music
  • An official warned that active cases on Mykonos had quadrupled to over 300 in just a week

ASTHENS: Greece on Saturday imposed a five-hour night curfew and other restrictions on the popular travel island of Mykonos because of a “worrying” spike in local Covid-19 infections, officials said.
The measures include a curfew from 1:00 am to 6:00 am and a ban on bars, clubs and restaurants from playing music, and are effective immediately until July 26, deputy civil protection minister Nikos Hardalias said in a statement.
“We call on the residents, visitors and business owners of our beautiful island to follow the measures faithfully...so that the spread of the virus can be swiftly checked and Mykonos can return to normal,” Hardalias said.
One of Greece’s top travel destinations, Mykonos draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually — including a steady stream of celebrities — to its picturesque beaches and vibrant nightlife.
But Greek authorities have been lately alarmed by the number of clandestine parties held in the island’s numerous villas.
Hardalias on July 15 had warned that active cases on Mykonos had quadrupled to over 300 in just a week.
On Saturday he said organizers of private gatherings of over 20 people risk fines of up to 200,000 euros ($236,000).
Greece is experiencing a steady climb in Covid-19 infections in recent days, largely blamed on the more contagious Delta variant.
Nearly 2,700 new cases were announced nationwide on Friday, compared to fewer than 400 three weeks prior.


Lawsuit over eggs tests China’s policies on unmarried women

Updated 18 September 2021

Lawsuit over eggs tests China’s policies on unmarried women

  • Teresa Xu is suing a hospital in Beijing that forbid her from freezing her eggs, citing national law
  • Her case is getting heard after the latest census data showed that population growth was slowing

BEIJING: After almost two years, an unmarried woman suing for the right to freeze her eggs in Beijing is getting her case heard in court Friday in a rare legal challenge against the country’s restrictions on unmarried women in reproductive health.
Teresa Xu has been waiting since December 2019 for her second hearing at the Chaoyang People’s Court in Beijing. She is suing Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital at Capital Medical University, a public hospital that forbid her from freezing her eggs, citing national law.
Xu’s victory could mark an important step for unmarried women in China who want to access public benefits. Unlike in the US, though, court judgments in China do not rely on precedence.
“From 2018 until now, it’s been three years, and my eggs are getting older with me, and the deadline is more and more pressing,” Xu, 33, said.
Her case is getting heard after the latest census data showed that population growth was slowing, while the proportion of elderly people was growing. The number of newborns had fallen every year since 2016. National level statistics showed that 12 million babies were born in 2020, down 18 percent from 14.6 million in 2019.
Beijing has responded by allowing families to have a third child, and said it will revamp policy to help families who want to have children.
For decades, China had instituted a “one-child” policy. It eased the restrictions slightly in 2015 to allow families to have two kids, although that did not change the overall slowing of population growth.
Yet, some aspects of the system, such as tying reproductive health services and things like maternity benefits to a woman’s marriage status, has made it difficult for some. China only allows married couples to access reproductive services and related benefits and they must be able to prove their marriage status with the license.
“I hope that the signal it sends about needing population growth will allow single women the opportunity to be able to make their own choice,” Xu told reporters in front of the court.
Xu visited the hospital in November 2018. When she went to the doctor, she was urged to have a child instead of freezing her eggs. The doctor also requested to see her marriage license.
Xu said her court hearing had been continually pushed back, owing in part to the pandemic.
She had briefly considered going abroad, but the costs — between $15,500 to $31,000 — were not feasible.


New York millionaire Robert Durst declared guilty of best friend’s murder

Updated 18 September 2021

New York millionaire Robert Durst declared guilty of best friend’s murder

  • Durst faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole after he was convicted of first-degree murder
  • Prosecutors painted a portrait of a rich narcissist who ruthlessly disposed of people who stood in his way

INGLEWOOD, California: A Los Angeles jury convicted Robert Durst on Friday of murdering his best friend 20 years ago, a case that took on new life after the New York real estate heir participated in a documentary that connected him to the slaying that was linked to his wife’s 1982 disappearance.
Durst, 78, was not in court for the verdict from the jury that deliberated about seven hours over three days. He was in isolation at a jail because he was exposed to someone with coronavirus.
Durst, who faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole when sentenced Oct. 18, was convicted of the first-degree murder of Susan Berman. She was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in December 2000 as she was prepared to tell police how she helped cover up his wife’s killing.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, was Durst’s longtime confidante who told friends she provided a phony alibi for him after his wife vanished.
Prosecutors painted a portrait of a rich narcissist who didn’t think the laws applied to him and ruthlessly disposed of people who stood in his way. They interlaced evidence of Berman’s killing with Kathie Durst’s suspected death and the 2001 killing of a tenant in a Texas flophouse where Robert Durst holed up while on the run from New York authorities.
“Bob Durst has been around a lot of years, and he’s been able to commit a lot of horrific crimes. We just feel really gratified that he’s been held accountable,” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said.
Lewin met with jurors after the verdict and said they thought prosecutors had proven Durst had killed his wife and had murdered both Berman and his Texas neighbor in an effort to escape justice.
He said jurors did not find Durst credible as a witness.
Durst was arrested in 2015 while hiding out in a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which he was confronted with incriminating evidence and made what prosecutors said was a confession.
Durst could be heard muttering to himself on a live microphone in a bathroom: “There it is. You’re caught.”
Durst’s decision to testify in his own defense — hoping for a repeat of his acquittal in the Texas killing — backfired as he was forced to admit lying under oath, made damning admissions and had his credibility destroyed when questioned by the prosecutor.
Defense lawyer David Chesnoff said Friday they believed there was “substantial reasonable doubt” and were disappointed in the verdict. He said Durst would pursue all avenues of appeal.
The conviction marks a victory for authorities who have sought to put Durst behind bars for murder in three states. Durst was never charged in the disappearance of his wife, who has never been found, and he was acquitted of murder in Galveston, Texas, where he admitted dismembering the victim’s body and tossing it out to sea.
The story of Durst, the estranged scion of a New York real estate developer, has been fodder for New York tabloids since his wife vanished. He provided plot twists so numerous that Hollywood couldn’t resist making a feature film about his life that eventually led to the documentary and discovery of new evidence in Berman’s slaying.
Durst ran from the law multiple times, disguised as a mute woman in Texas and staying under an alias at a New Orleans hotel with a shoulders-to-head latex mask for a presumed getaway. He jumped bail in Texas and was arrested after shoplifting a chicken sandwich in Pennsylvania, despite having $37,000 in cash — along with two handguns — in his rental car.
He later quipped that he was “the worst fugitive the world has ever met.”
Durst escaped close scrutiny from investigators when his wife disappeared. But his troubles resurfaced in late 2000 when New York authorities reopened the case.
His lawyer told him to be prepared to be charged in the case, and he fled a life of luxury to Galveston, Texas, where he rented a cheap apartment as “Dorothy Ciner,” a woman he pretended couldn’t speak. He eventually dropped the disguise after mishaps that included walking into a men’s restroom and igniting his wig at a bar while lighting a cigarette.
Just before Christmas, he testified that he traveled to LA to visit Berman for a “staycation” with plans to see some of the tourist sites.
Durst, who had long denied ever being in LA at the time of Berman’s death, testified at trial that he found her dead on a bedroom floor when he arrived.
Berman, a writer who had been friends with Durst since they were students at the University of California, Los Angeles, had serious financial problems at the time. Durst had given her $50,000, and prosecutors suggested she was trying to leverage more money from him by telling him she was going to speak with the cops.
Nine months after her death, Durst killed his Galveston neighbor Morris Black, in what he said was either an accident or self-defense. Durst said he found Black, who he had become friends with, in his apartment holding Durst’s .22-caliber pistol.
Durst was acquitted after testifying the 71-year-old was killed in a struggle for the gun. Durst then chopped up Black’s body and tossed it out to sea. He was convicted of destroying evidence for discarding the body parts.
After the trial and the ghastly evidence of the dismemberment, Durst found he was a pariah, he said. Despite an estimated $100 million fortune, he was turned away by multiple condominium associations and said the Los Angeles County Museum of Art wouldn’t take his money unless he donated anonymously.
Durst thought a 2010 feature film based on his life, “All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling as him and Kirsten Dunst as Kathie, had been largely accurate and painted a sympathetic portrait, despite implicating him in three killings. He only objected that he was depicted killing his dog — something he would never do.
He reached out to the filmmaker and agreed to sit for lengthy interviews for a documentary. He encouraged his friends to do the same and gave the filmmakers access to boxes of his records.
He came to deeply regret his decision after “The Jinx” aired on HBO in 2015, calling it a “very, very, very big mistake.”
The documentary filmmakers discovered a crucial piece of evidence that connected him to an anonymous note sent to police directing them to Berman’s lifeless body.
Durst, who was so confident he couldn’t be connected to the note, told filmmakers “only the killer could have written” the note.
Filmmakers confronted him with a letter he sent Berman a year earlier. The handwriting was identical and Beverly Hills was misspelled as “Beverley” on both. He couldn’t tell the two apart.
The gotcha moment provided the climax of the movie as Durst stepped off camera and muttered to himself on a live microphone in the bathroom: “Killed them all, of course.”
During 14 days of testimony that was so punishing Judge Mark Windham called it “devastating,” Durst denied killing his wife and Berman, though he said he would lie if he did.
He tried to explain away the note and what prosecutors said was a confession during an unguarded moment.
For the first time, Durst admitted on the witness stand that he sent the note and had been in Los Angeles at the time of Berman’s death.
Durst said he sent the note because he wanted Berman to be found but didn’t want anyone to know he had been there because it would look suspicious.
He acknowledged that even he had difficulty imagining he could have written the note without killing Berman.
“It’s very difficult to believe, to accept, that I wrote the letter and did not kill Susan Berman,” Durst testified.
A prosecutor said it was one of the truest things Durst said amid a ton of lies.


Hundreds of migrating songbirds crash into NYC skyscrapers

Updated 17 September 2021

Hundreds of migrating songbirds crash into NYC skyscrapers

  • Stormy weather Monday night into Tuesday contributed to the deaths, said Kaitlyn Parkins of NYC Audubon group
  • But bird strikes on Manhattan skyscrapers are a persistent problem for years, says NYC Audubon

NEW YORK: Hundreds of birds migrating through New York City this week died after crashing into the city’s glass towers, a mass casualty event spotlighted by a New York City Audubon volunteer’s tweets showing the World Trade Center littered with bird carcasses.
This week’s avian death toll was particularly high, but bird strikes on Manhattan skyscrapers are a persistent problem that NYC Audubon has documented for years, said Kaitlyn Parkins, the group’s associate director of conservation and science.
Stormy weather Monday night into Tuesday contributed to the deaths, she said.
“We had a big storm and sort of weird weather and lots of birds, and that’s sort of the perfect combination that can lead to bird-window collisions,” Parkins said.
“It seems that the storm might have brought the birds in lower than they would have otherwise have been, or just disoriented them,” Parkins added. “The effects of nocturnal light on birds is also quite strong, especially when it’s a cloudy night.”
Volunteers with NYC Audubon document bird deaths at high-risk spots during the spring and fall migrations.
Melissa Breyer, the volunteer who tweeted about finding nearly 300 birds on sidewalks surrounding the new World Trade Center towers, said the experience was “overwhelming.”
“As soon as I got to the buildings, the birds were everywhere on the sidewalk,” Breyer said. “Looking north, covered, south, covered, west, covered, the sidewalks were literally covered with birds.”
NYC Audubon wants the owners of the World Trade Center towers and other buildings to help reduce the number of bird strikes by dimming the lights at night and by treating glass to make it more visible to birds.
“Make it so that they can see it and recognize that it’s a solid barrier that they cannot fly through,” Parkins said.
Jordan Barowitz, a spokesperson for the Durst Organization, co-developer of One World Trade Center, said in an email, “The first 200 feet of One WTC are encased in glass fins that are non-reflective. This design was chosen because it greatly reduces bird strikes which mostly occur below 200 feet and are frequently caused by reflective glass.”
Dara McQuillan, a spokesperson for Silverstein Properties, the developer of three other trade center skyscrapers, said, “We care deeply for wild birds and protecting their habitat in the five boroughs. Understanding that artificial night-time lighting in general can attract and disorient migrating birds, we are actively encouraging our office tenants to turn off their lights at night and lower their blinds wherever possible, especially during the migratory season.”
It wasn’t the last flight for all the birds that crashed. Some survived.
A total of 77 birds were taken to the Wild Bird Fund’s rehab facility on the Upper West Side on Tuesday, the majority of them from the trade center area, director Ritamary McMahon said.
“We knew it was going to be a large migration coming in. They could tell from the radar,” said McMahon, who scheduled extra staff to care for an expected influx of injured birds.
The Wild Bird Fund staff members gave the birds food, fluids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling.
Thirty birds recovered and were released in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Wednesday, McMahon said.
“One of our staff took an Uber down to Prospect Park to release them so they wouldn’t face any more tall buildings on their travels,” she said.


Led by the nose: Meet the UAE’s coronavirus sniffer dogs

Updated 16 September 2021

Led by the nose: Meet the UAE’s coronavirus sniffer dogs

  • UAE has 38 sniffer dogs working at its airports

DUBAI: One year after completing one of the first studies into canine detection of COVID-19, the UAE now has 38 sniffer dogs working at its airports that can identify infected persons at a 98.2-percent success rate.
Dubai Police trained the cohort, which includes German Shepherds, Labradors, Cocker Spaniels and Border Collies, to recognize the scent of COVID-19 using samples of sweat from people with confirmed infections, collected by holding a swab in an armpit for a few minutes.
“A very small amount of that is then put into a jar — it has the scent of the patient — then we put the sample out for the dog to sniff ... When he gives us a sign, we give him a treat,” said First Lt. Nasser Al-Falasi of Dubai Police, supervisor of the program at the K9 training center in Dubai’s Awir region.
In the center’s large training hall, police handlers walk the dogs along a row of metal boxes, of which only one contains a positive sample.
The dogs sniff the samples and within seconds sit down to signal that they have found something.
Police trainer Fatima Al-Jasmi, who is on the COVID-19 detection team, guides an excited-looking black and white Border Collie through the exercises, getting it right every time.
“The training was a bit of a challenge, learning a new skill at an international standard, and then training the dog in that,” she said.
The study in Dubai, published in June in Communications Biology, part of the British scientific journal Nature, concluded with a 98.2 percent detection success rate. The study used sweat samples and PCR tests from 3,290 people to compare the dogs detection abilities.
Several other countries, including Finland, the US and France have been running their own dog training and trials of canine detection of COVID-19. ​
Falasi said the dogs currently carry out around 30-40 tests a day at airports. Bolt, a black and tan Belgian Malinois, was the first COVID-19 detection dog that he trained.
“He goes on assignments often. He has maybe done more than 1,000 COVID-19 tests,” Falasi said proudly.
The dogs are mainly used in airports across the UAE, but are ready to be used wherever required.
Dubai has received requests from around the world to share knowledge about how to train dogs to sniff out COVID-19, Dubai Police’s Maj. Salah Khalifa Al-Mazroui said.
Dubai Police also has dogs trained to sniff out drugs and explosives, skills put to use as the emirate of Dubai prepares to open the Dubai Expo2020 world fair exhibition site next month.


Cyprus recovers looted 18th century church doors from Japan

Updated 16 September 2021

Cyprus recovers looted 18th century church doors from Japan

  • Communications and Works Minister said the wooden doors were discovered at the Kanazawa Art College more than 20 years ago
  • The doors were stolen after the island’s ethnic split in 1974

NICOSIA, Cyprus: Cyprus’ Orthodox Church formally took charge Thursday of two ornately decorated 18th century doors stolen from a church in the ethnically divided island’s breakaway north and reclaimed from a Japanese art college after a long legal battle.
Communications and Works Minister Yiannis Karousos said the wooden doors — painted with religious scenes, carved and gilded — were discovered at the Kanazawa Art College more than 20 years ago and their return followed “long and intensive efforts.”
No information was provided on how the college acquired them.
The artifacts originally stood in the central gateway of the iconostasis — the ornately decorated screen that separates the sanctuary from the rest of an Orthodox church — of Saint Anastasios in Peristeronopigi village.
Built in 1775, the church sits atop a cave where the saint’s grave is preserved.
The doors were stolen after the island’s ethnic split in 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared independence in the north, that’s recognized only by Turkey.
In what Karousos called “cultural genocide,” hundreds of frescoes, mosaics and other religious works of art were looted from churches in the north after the invasion.
Since 1974, Cypriot government and church authorities have fought long legal battles in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to reclaim them.
Karousos said the doors’ repatriation sends the message to antiquities smugglers and “the international ring of crooks that however many years go by, (Cyprus) will hunt them down, because cultural genocide cannot be tolerated anywhere in the world.”