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World News

Russia, China veto U.N. approval of aid deliveries to Syria from Turkey

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Russia and China cast vetoes on Tuesday to block the U.N. Security Council from extending its approval of aid deliveries to Syria from Turkey for a year, despite U.N. warnings that the lives of Syrian civilians depend on the cross-border access.

The more than six-year long operation is currently authorized until Friday. The remaining 13 council members voted in favor of the resolution drafted by Germany and Belgium.

The Security Council will now vote on a rival Russian text that would only approve one Turkish crossing for aid access for six months. During the coronavirus pandemic the council has been operating virtually, which means members have 24 hours to cast a vote on a draft resolution.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier on Tuesday cross-border access was “vital to the wellbeing of the civilians in northwest Syria … Lives depend on it.”

The Security Council in January allowed the cross-border aid operation to continue from the two Turkish crossings for six months, but dropped crossing points from Iraq and Jordan due to opposition by Syrian ally Russia and China.

Last month Germany and Belgium proposed reopening the Iraq crossing for six months to help Syria combat the coronavirus, but it was cut from the draft resolution that was put to a vote on Tuesday, again due to opposition by Russia and China.

Syrian government authorities have confirmed more than 250 cases of the coronavirus, including nine deaths, the United Nations has said.

Western diplomats have said the closure of the Iraq crossing cuts off 40% of medical aid to northeastern Syria.

In December Russia and China vetoed a draft text that would have authorized the crossing points from Iraq and Turkey for one year. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain to pass.

A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria and millions are internally displaced.

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World News

Football: Celta and Atletico share spoils

VIGO, SPAIN (REUTERS) – Atletico Madrid dropped points for the third time since the season resumed after the coronavirus stoppage as they drew 1-1 away to struggling Celta Vigo in La Liga on Tuesday (July 7).

Striker Alvaro Morata got the visitors off to the perfect start by tapping an Angel Correa cross into an empty net in the opening minute but Celta’s Fran Beltran levelled early in the second half on the volley.

Atleti are third in the standings on 63 points after 35 games and the draw edged them closer to securing a top-four finish as they moved nine above fifth-placed Villarreal, who are in action away to Getafe on Wednesday.

Celta meanwhile nudged a step closer towards guaranteeing survival in the top flight as they moved on to 36 points in 15th, seven above the relegation zone.

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World News

Employees undergo reskilling for better jobs amid slowdown

After working in the travel industry for more than two decades, operation assistant Janet Tan finds it a breeze to handle tasks such as booking flights and hotel stays, issuing air tickets and arranging incentive trips.

But with travel in the doldrums because of Covid-19 restrictions, Ms Tan, 53, was asked by her boss to learn something completely new this year: digital marketing.

After 12 full days of classes, which she found “extremely challenging”, she is now able to update the company’s Facebook page and create other social media posts. She will get a pay rise for taking on additional responsibilities.

“I may feel stressed if my job responsibility changes completely. But I will take it in my stride and grow with the company,” said Ms Tan, who works at travel agency Sita World Travel.

She and her boss, Sita’s executive director James Tang, both attended the Digital Marketing Place-and-Train Programme for the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), attractions, and tour and travel sectors. It comprised classroom and virtual sessions from March to May.

Mr Tang, 49, said the firm, which was set up in 1961, did not have any online presence and that it registered Facebook and LinkedIn accounts only after a restructuring exercise in 2018.

“That’s why this course comes at the right time,” he said, adding that the agency will look at implementing more online tools such as an online booking platform.

Although business during the circuit breaker was more than 90 per cent lower compared with January, the company retained its five employees including Mr Tang, although they took a pay cut.

Amid the business slowdown, more than 1,700 workers are being trained and redeployed to new or higher-value roles, through five reskilling programmes launched or enhanced in this year’s Budget, said Workforce Singapore (WSG), the government agency that runs the programmes.

Besides the digital marketing scheme, the other schemes are for the hotel, retail and food service sectors, as well as for air transport coordinators.

TAKING CHANGES IN STRIDE

I may feel stressed if my job responsibility changes completely. But I will take it in my stride and grow with the company.

OPERATION ASSISTANT JANET TAN

EQUIPPED FOR DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Most of our operations employees are not so well versed in digital technology so there is a lot of hand-holding. (The WSG programme) has helped us sharpen and structure our job redesign and training programme to get staff on board the digital transformation.

MR FRANK LAU, founder and chief executive of home-grown restaurant chain Gratify Group.

The air transport programme is still accepting applications.

A WSG spokesman said: “These efforts aim to minimise potential retrenchment, and support employers in capitalising on the downtime to transform their business, redesign jobs and reskill their employees. It ensures that these sectors will have the skilled manpower they need to meet business demand when it returns.”

The programmes subsidise up to 70 per cent of trainees’ monthly salaries, or up to 90 per cent for Singaporean trainees aged 40 and up.

The salary support period is four months for the digital marketing programme and six months for the others.

Merlin Entertainments Singapore, which runs the Madame Tussauds attraction in Sentosa, also enrolled two employees in the digital marketing programme, which is facilitated by Nanyang Polytechnic.

One of them, Ms Bebe Juhairi, 23, started out as a guest services host but now spends two days a week supporting the marketing team as a graphic designer.

Her salary will be raised after the course, said human resources manager Yasmin Taylor-Tuma.

Most of Merlin’s 80 employees here are in guest-facing roles, such as facilitating the Marvel 4D cinema show or operating the boat ride. As the attraction had to close during the circuit breaker, a short-term wage cut was made across all roles in the business, said Ms Taylor-Tuma.

The firm started a home-based training and activity schedule for all front-line employees, and reduced non-labour-related operating costs such as for advertising campaigns, sales initiatives and capital investment.

But eventually some roles had to be made redundant, said Ms Taylor-Tuma. “We are continuing to provide outplacement support to all affected employees to assist with their transition to other employment opportunities.”

Meanwhile, home-grown restaurant chain Gratify Group, which runs the Seoul Yummy, Omoomo and Pizza Maru eateries, tapped the food services scheme.

Its founder and chief executive Frank Lau said group revenue fell by more than 50 per cent during the circuit breaker, and cost-cutting measures were carried out, such as reducing working days for employees at outlets that were hard hit.

The firm, which retained its 85 full-time staff, helped some local employees to find part-time jobs in essential services, such as supermarkets and food catering for dormitories. At the same time, it shifted to takeaways and deliveries, introduced a virtual fried chicken brand, and implemented digital solutions such as e-procurement, e-ordering, e-payment and data analytics to improve efficiency.

Now that its physical outlets have reopened, it is using e-ordering and e-payments at all outlets. Customers can scan a QR code on each table to access the ordering website and pay online. The order will be sent digitally to the cashier and kitchen. “This reduces close physical interaction and the demand for physical menus, which in turn improves the safety of our employees and customers by reducing the risk of infection,” said Mr Lau.

He added that the firm has been trying to help employees understand the importance of digital skills and be confident in the new systems so that they will believe in and implement its digital transformation plan.

“Most of our operations employees are not so well versed in digital technology so there is a lot of hand-holding,” he said.

“(The WSG programme) has helped us sharpen and structure our job redesign and training programme to get staff on board the digital transformation.”

Senior service crew member Tan Tock Peng, 61, said the new system has shortened the time he spends on order taking. “Now, I can be more focused on improving my customer service,” he said.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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World News

Demonstrators storm Serbian parliament in protest over lockdown

BELGRADE (Reuters) – A group of opposition supporters stormed the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Tuesday in a protest against a lockdown planned for the capital this weekend to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday evening that stricter measures including the lockdown of Belgrade over the weekend would be introduced because of the rising number of coronavirus infections.

Opponents blame the increase on the government and say people should not have to pay the price for another lockdown.

After Vucic’s statement, several thousand people began gathering in front of the parliament in Belgrade’s central square.

Around 10 p.m., a small group of protesters pushed past a police cordon, broke through a door and entered the parliament building. But police later pushed them back.

The crowd demanded Vucic’s resignation and shouted: “Serbia has risen.” A Reuters cameraman said the police threw teargas, pushing the crowd away from the parliament building. Police reinforcements later arrived.

“People gathered spontaneously. Discontent can be felt in the air,” Radomir Lazovic of the Do Not Let Belgrade Drown opposition group told N1 television.

Serbia, a country of 7 million people, has reported 16,168 coronavirus infections and 330 deaths. But the numbers are spiking and 299 cases and 13 deaths were reported just on Tuesday.

Epidemiologists and doctors warned that hospitals were running at full capacity and that medical workers were tired.

In early March, Serbia introduced a lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

But in late May, the Balkan country was among the first to open up and set elections for June 21. During the campaign, Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) organised rallies at which people did not wear masks.

Top party officials, including the president’s adviser, were infected after celebrating their election victory in a small room while not wearing masks.

Opposition parties, many of which boycotted the election, criticise Vucic for using the lockdowns to strengthen what they call his autocratic rule.

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Economy

Ho Ching suggests Temasek's portfolio value close to $300 billion estimates

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – Temasek Holdings’ chief executive Ho Ching has not denied reports that the state investment firm had a portfolio value of more than $300 billion as at March 31.

Instead, she noted in a Facebook post on Tuesday evening (July 7) that she was “impressed with the analyses” from reports that had speculated on Temasek’s portfolio performance, and that the figures were “pretty close to (Temasek’s) own management estimates”.

The audited portfolio performance should be finalised over the next couple of weeks, Ms Ho said, adding that it was unlikely that the figures would be “very far from the above”.

Ms Ho, who is also Temasek’s executive director, noted that the portfolio includes listed companies, as well as private companies that are bond issuers or that still report to their stakeholders; this means the public can estimate Temasek’s portfolio value based on the public data available, she said.

Temasek also lists major investments in its portfolio every year, and tracking the performance of these investments would give a “pretty accurate sense of what’s happening”, she said.

These major investments make up about 60 per cent of Temasek’s total portfolio last year, she added.

In a previous post, she acknowledged that Temasek’s portfolio was valued at $313 billion as at March 31 last year, with 74 per cent invested outside of Singapore. The firm has been in a net cash position since 2007 and 2008, just before the global financial crisis hit.

However, it has had to help a number of portfolio companies amid the pandemic.

Earlier this year, it fully underwrote an $8.8 billion rights issue by Singapore Airlines (SIA), of which it is the controlling shareholder. It took up its full pro-rata entitlement of 986 million rights shares as well as about $3.35 billion in mandatory convertible bonds issued by the national carrier.

Temasek announced last Thursday that it would release its annual report in September instead of July to accommodate the delay in consolidating financial reporting for its portfolio companies around the world.

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World News

Microsoft, Zoom: Big tech's China face-off risks sparking exodus from Hong Kong

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – Facebook Inc, Google and Twitter Inc – all of which are blocked in the mainland – are now headed towards a showdown with China that could end up making Hong Kong feel more like Beijing.

Hours after Hong Kong announced sweeping new powers to police the Internet on Monday (July 6) night, those companies plus the likes of Microsoft Corp and Zoom Video Communications Inc all suspended requests for data from the Hong Kong government. ByteDance Ltd’s TikTok, which has Chinese owners, announced it would pull its viral video app from the territory’s mobile stores in the coming days.

Their dilemma is stark: Bend to the law and infuriate Western nations increasingly at odds with China over political freedoms, or simply refuse and depart like Google did in China a decade ago over some of the very same issues. Much like that seismic event shook the mainland in 2010, Big Tech’s reaction now could have a much wider impact on Hong Kong’s future as a financial hub.

“Google is pretty important to people here, and if that’s cut off then it’s really extremely serious,” said Mr Richard Harris, a former director at Citi Private Bank who now runs Port Shelter Investment Management in Hong Kong.

“In Hong Kong we don’t know where the boundaries are, and that’s threatening to a lot of business people.”

Over the past week, Hong Kong authorities have begun explaining how they’ll enforce a law that officials in Beijing called a “sword of Damocles” hanging over China’s most strident critics.

The legislation, which sparked the threat of sanctions from the Trump administration and outrage elsewhere, has had a chilling effect on pro-democracy protesters who demonstrated for months last year while also raising fresh questions for businesses.

On Monday night, the Hong Kong government announced sweeping new police powers, including warrant-less searches, property seizures and online surveillance. If a publisher fails to immediately comply with a request to remove content deemed in breach of the law, police can seek a warrant to “take any action” to remove it while also demanding “the identification record or decryption assistance”.

“We are absolutely headed for a showdown, and there are no indications that the Hong Kong government is particularly prepared if Facebook or another company refuses a removal request,” said Mr James Griffiths, a journalist and author of The Great Firewall: How To Build And Control An Alternative Version Of The Internet.

“These companies appear to have realised that there is no compromise they could make that would truly satisfy Beijing or make them seem trustworthy. This could make them more willing to stand up against Chinese censorship in Hong Kong.”

American Internet giants have made overtures towards Beijing in recent years as the market exploded, but few have so far actually acceded to China’s censorship framework.

Of the rare examples, Microsoft’s LinkedIn censors content to allow it to operate a Chinese version, while Apple Inc complies with local regulations in policing its app store and other services. Reports that Google entertained the notion of returning – via potentially a censored version of search called Project Dragonfly – enraged lawmakers and its own employees torpedoed the idea.

WORLDWIDE CENSORSHIP

Twitter and Facebook have never been consistently available in China, but Mr Mark Zuckerberg also flirted with Beijing before abandoning the notion as regulatory scrutiny and a user backlash grew at home. In both instances, external factors helped scupper the feasibility of operating in the world’s No. 2 economy.

“I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in,” he said last year in a speech at Georgetown University.

“And now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in and fight for free expression around the world.”

Still, the Internet heavyweights are already censoring content across the world for both authoritarian regimes and western democracies, according to Mr Ben Bland, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia. After a mass shooting last March in Christchurch, New Zealand, top social media companies joined with more than 40 countries in a concerted call to end the spread of extremist messaging online.

Germany has banned online Nazi and right-wing extremist content, and most countries have blocks in place against online pornography and criminal activity. In Thailand, strict lese majeste laws lead to censorship of content deemed offensive to the royal family, while Communist-run Vietnam expunges anything deemed “anti-state”.

REPUTATIONAL DAMAGE

Big tech companies must gauge the importance of the markets in China and Hong Kong with possible reputational damage in other places they operate, according to Prof Stuart Hargreaves, a law professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong who researches surveillance and privacy issues.

“I do not expect to see the Great Firewall extended from mainland China to Hong Kong, at least in the medium term,” he said.

“It is not necessary for Beijing’s goal of tamping down certain sentiments and would be the obvious end of Hong Kong as a global city and its particular role as an Asian finance hub.”

The exit of TikTok, the viral video app that has insisted it operates independently of Beijing, could actually benefit the Communist Party by removing a forum pro-democracy protesters have used to post videos calling for an independent Hong Kong. Last year, demonstrators used the Reddit-like forum LIHKG as well as Telegram to organise leaderless protests.

TikTok on Tuesday played up its US ties while pushing back against comments by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who said the government is considering a ban of the short video app.

“We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked,” a company spokesman said, adding that it’s led by an American CEO.

Platforms like Telegram that provide end-to-end encryption could become increasingly popular, said Dr Joyce Nip, senior lecturer in Chinese Media Studies at the University of Sydney. Telegram said it has never shared data with Hong Kong authorities, adding that it doesn’t have servers in the territory and doesn’t store data there.

‘KNIFE EDGE’

Hong Kong’s leader, Mrs Carrie Lam, didn’t answer a question Tuesday on her response to tech companies that stopped processing data requests from her government. Still, she played down any long-term impact on the city’s position as a financial hub around the same time that Pompeo released a statement blasting the Communist Party’s “Orwellian censorship” in Hong Kong.

There “has been an increasing appreciation of the positive effect of this national security legislation, particularly in restoring stability in Hong Kong as reflected by some of the market sentiments in recent days”, Mrs Lam said a day after local stocks entered a bull market.

“Surely this is not doom and gloom for Hong Kong.”

The regulations stemmed from a new national security committee created by the law that includes Mrs Lam and Mr Luo Huining, Beijing’s top official in the city. While China’s leaders know Hong Kong needs a free flow of information to function as a world-class financial centre, “much seems to rest in the hands of the few newly empowered bureaucrats who will police the new laws”, according to Mr Steve Vickers, chief executive officer of Steve Vickers and Associates, a political and corporate risk consultancy.

“Foreign firms are on something of a knife edge here, caught between their natural affinity with freedom of information and their commercial desire to operate in the huge Chinese market,” said Mr Vickers, a former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau.

“It is now more a matter of what is actually done, as opposed to what is being said – by either China or the foreign IT companies – that will be the key.”

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World News

Katie Price 'terrified Harvey was having heart attack' in hospital dash

Katie Price has said she was ‘terrified’ her son Harvey was having a heart attack when he was rushed to hospital recently.

The former glamour model’s eldest son Harvey, 18, was rushed to hospital for urgent medical attention last week after he fell ill with needle-like chest pains.

Katie and her family had been celebrating her daughter Princess’ 13th birthday at the time, with the star later reassuring fans that Harvey was home and feeling fine after undergoing multiple tests.

Speaking about the hospital dash, Katie told OK! magazine that she was ‘terrified’ Harvey was having a heart attack.

She said: ‘Harvey had chest pains during the day so I panicked that he might have coronavirus. I was also terrified he might be having a heart attack because he’s high risk due to his obesity.’

Harvey is blind and autistic, and has also been diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome – which affects his speech and movement.

Katie has previously said she also worries over Harvey’s weight as he is 27-and-a-half stone and often gets ‘out of breath’.

‘With Harvey and all his health conditions, you simply can’t mess about,’ she stressed, adding: ‘I always stay really calm in situations like that because I don’t want to worry the kids.’

The star is also mum to Junior, 15, and Princess, 13, who she shares with ex Peter Andre, and son Jett, six, and Bunny, five, her children with ex-husband Kieran Hayler.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=vchxrveDTsY%3Fversion%3D3%26rel%3D1%26fs%3D1%26autohide%3D2%26showsearch%3D0%26showinfo%3D1%26iv_load_policy%3D1%26wmode%3Dtransparent

After testing Harvey for coronavirus, signs of a heart attack or blood clots, doctors couldn’t find anything seriously wrong with Harvey and said he may have a chest infection – allowing him to return home that night.

A rep for Katie at the time had told Metro.co.uk: ‘Harvey is home and resting after his medical ordeal yesterday. Harvey will be making a full recovery.’

Katie had shared a video to update fans on Harvey’s condition, with the teen seen telling his mum he felt ‘fine’ and that he loves her.

The pair even joked that Harvey – who Katie has with ex Dwight Yorke – had been flirting with the ambulance staff, calling them ‘beautiful’.

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Sports

Tom Brady, Floyd Mayweather businesses received PPP loans

Small bank used financial tech to distribute coronavirus PPP loans

Cross River Bank president and CEO Gilles Gade says being technology-driven helped his bank quickly get loans to businesses who needed it following the coronavirus outbreak.

Businesses owned by NFL superstar Tom Brady and boxer Floyd Mayweather received loans through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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Brady’s fitness brand, TB12 Inc., received loans of between $350,000 and $1 million, according to the data. TB12 Performance & Recovery Centers in Boston and Foxboro, Massachusetts were forced to shut down in mid-March during the coronavirus pandemic.

THESE BILLIONAIRE-BACKED BUSINESSES RECEIVED PPP LOANS

Aside from the fitness centers, TB12 offers virtual training services and an online store that sells a variety of health-related substances. Brady founded the brand in 2013 and is expected to open a facility in Florida, after signing a two-year, $50 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

TB12 representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ESPN PLANS TOM BRADY DOCUSERIES

Las Vegas-based Mayweather Promotions also received a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million. Founded in 2007, the promotional firm’s clients include boxers Badou Jack and Gervonta Davis.

Mayweather is one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, earning $915 million from 2010 to 2017, according to Forbes. Mayweather promotions did not immediately return a request for comment.

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More than 4.9 million small businesses received roughly $521 billion in aid through PPP, an assistance fund meant to help companies weather financial difficulties during the pandemic. The loans are forgivable as long as 60 percent of the money was used to maintain payroll.

Brady and Mayweather were among several sports figures and organizations to apply for PPP assistance in recent weeks. Applicants include several teams in Major League Soccer and NASCAR, U.S. Olympics sports organizations and multiple boxing firms, including legendary promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank.

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World News

What is Amazon Prime Day?

Fox Business Flash top headlines for July 7

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Prime Day has been dubbed Amazon's biggest shopping event for Prime members around the globe.

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Last year, Prime Day spanned two days — July 15 and 16 – offering subscribers a "parade of deals" around the world, according to the shopping behemoth. The shopping event was the longest to date since it first emerged.

Amazon initially launched the program in 2015 as a way to celebrate the company's 20th birthday. Every year since it has vigorously drummed up sales during sluggish summer months. It has also lured droves of shoppers into signing up for the company’s membership program.

AMAZON HITS $1.5T MILESTONE FASTER THAN APPLE AND MICROSOFT DID

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AMZN AMAZON.COM INC. 3,000.12 -56.92 -1.86%

On the eve of Amazon's 20th anniversary, the company initiated Prime Day with one goal: to offer more deals than Black Friday but only for members of its subscription service.

The very first event lasted 24 hours, taking place throughout the U.S., the UK, Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Austria, Amazon said.

(iStock)

As it turns out, the goal was achieved. The company touted that customers purchased more products during the 24-hour window than on Black Friday in 2014, which, at the time, was the company's biggest Black Friday. Overall, members ordered 34.4 million items with 398 items being ordered every second, Amazon said.

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By 2019, Prime Day found its way into 18 countries: the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Singapore, the Netherlands, Mexico, Luxembourg, Japan, Italy, India, Germany, France, China, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

It quickly became the largest shopping event in the company's history with sales surpassing Amazon's previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Overall, subscribers purchased more than 175 million items.

Prime Day for 2020 has yet to be announced.

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World News

Pub closed by police as landlord 'was drunk' and there was no social distancing

The same day the pubs reopened again, one was shut down as police found no social distancing was going on and the owner was ‘intoxicated and argumentative’.

Number One Bar in Darlington was temporarily closed on July 4 when officers decided staff were not in control of how customers were behaving.

Durham Constabulary also temporarily closed The Wheatsheaf pub in Chilton, blaming ‘irresponsible behaviour’ at the two venues.

A closure notice at the Number One Bar said: ‘When officers arrived at the premises the music was too loud and there was no social distancing taking place.

‘Customers were stood up at the bar, when staff were spoken to by officers, the staff stated that customers would not listen to their instructions and effectively could not control what was taking place in the premises. The bar owner was intoxicated and argumentative.

‘He did not seem aware of the guidelines and was certainly not adhering to them.’

The bar’s Facebook page said it had reopened for business by Monday evening.

Chief Inspector Neal Bickford said: ‘We want to say a massive thank you to those responsible establishments who complied with all the regulations to allow people to have a safe and enjoyable trip back to the pub.

‘We know it has been a tough three months for both businesses and revellers so it was great to see the vast majority of people working with us.

‘We will always look to work with those who need to improve but unfortunately two premises did have to be closed on Saturday following unacceptable behaviour.’

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