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Dead-heat Virginia governor’s race headlines U.S. elections

By Joseph Ax, Gabriella Borter and Jason Lange

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Dead-heat Virginia governor's race headlines U.S. elections
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Campaign signs for Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin stand together on the last day of early voting in the Virginia gubernatorial election in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., October 30, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Phot

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By Joseph Ax, Gabriella Borter and Jason Lange

FAIRFAX, Va. (Reuters) -Virginians voted on Tuesday in an unexpectedly close race for governor that carries national implications for both Republicans and Democrats ahead of U.S. congressional elections next year.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a party fixture who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, has seen his lead over Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin in opinion polls evaporate in recent weeks.

A McAuliffe loss in Virginia, which Democratic President Joe Biden won by a double-digit margin over Republican then-President Donald Trump last year, would sound alarm bells for national Democrats.

Cultural issues have dominated the gubernatorial race, with Youngkin promising to give parents more control over how public schools handle race, gender and COVID-19 protocols, and McAuliffe vowing to protect abortion access and voting rights.

Polls leading up to Election Day showed that Youngkin closed the gap with McAuliffe by appealing to independent voters, a group that was alienated in 2020 by Trump’s firebrand style of politics but was more drawn to Youngkin’s congenial manner.

“I don’t think Youngkin is a mini-Trump, which I think is a good thing,” James Feather, 66, said after casting his vote for the Republican candidate in Fairfax, just outside Washington. The retired engineer said he reluctantly voted for Trump last year but sees Youngkin as more capable administrator.

Youngkin’s strategy could offer a road map https://www.reuters.com/world/us/virginia-governors-race-could-show-way-republican-congressional-campaigns-2021-11-01 for Republicans trying to woo back suburban moderates in the 2022 elections, where control of Congress and the fate of Biden’s agenda will be at stake, without alienating the hard-liners who backed Trump.

Democrats said they were energized by Trump’s role in the race after the former president endorsed Youngkin.

“A vote for Youngkin is a vote for Trump,” said Madeline McDermott, 30, who manages a bridal boutique and cast her ballot for McAuliffe in Fairfax.

The winner will succeed Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who is barred by Virginia’s term limits law from serving two consecutive terms.

The race is one of numerous contests and issues before American voters on Tuesday as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and rising consumer prices.

In the other governor’s race, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is favored to win a second term against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former state lawmaker.

Dozens of major U.S. cities will also choose mayors, including Atlanta, Minneapolis, Boston, Miami, Cincinnati, Detroit and Seattle. In New York, Brooklyn Borough President and former police Captain Eric Adams, a Democrat, is expected to become the city’s second Black mayor, unless Republican Curtis Sliwa, who runs the Guardian Angels civilian street patrol, can pull off a shocking upset.

A year and a half after George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a white policeman, Minneapolis voters will decide whether to approve a measure that would replace the police department https://www.reuters.com/world/us/minneapolis-voters-decide-scrapping-police-department-18-months-after-george-2021-10-31 with a new public safety agency.

TRUMP’S SHADOW

Virginia’s gubernatorial race, which always takes place one year after the quadrennial U.S. presidential election, has long been viewed as a crucial barometer of the president’s national standing – and a preview of the following year’s midterm elections.

Biden’s approval ratings have fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos national poll, conducted last Wednesday and Thursday.

Youngkin, 54, a political newcomer and former private equity executive, focused on hot-button social issues such as how racial issues are taught in schools, as well as COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates.

He campaigned as an advocate for parents who want more say in their children’s education, capitalizing on anger among some conservatives who believe schools are imposing divisive curricula in the name of diversity.

Speaking in the state capital, Richmond, on Monday, Youngkin promised he would usher in “a Virginia where our government stops telling us what to do all the time.”

McAuliffe, 64, has sought to tie Youngkin to Trump at every turn, attacking the Republican for initially hesitating to say whether Biden won the election legitimately.

While Youngkin has acknowledged Biden’s victory, he called for an audit of Virginia’s voting machines, a move that prompted Democrats to accuse him of validating Trump’s baseless election conspiracy theories.

Trump reiterated his support for Youngkin in a statement on Monday, saying: “He has had my complete and total endorsement for many months!”

McAuliffe responded to Trump’s statement on Twitter (NYSE:).

“He’s pulling out all the stops to win this race because he knows Glenn will advance his MAGA agenda here in VA,” McAuliffe wrote of Trump, referring to his slogan, Make America Great Again.

“Tomorrow, VA will choose a better way.”

But without Trump at the top of the ballot, it is unclear whether invoking his name will be as effective for Democrats.

Youngkin has walked a fine line on Trump, mostly avoiding much discussion of the former president while campaigning on issues like public safety and education that appeal both to moderates and Trump supporters.

Trump has not visited the state to campaign, but participated in a pro-Youngkin tele-rally on Monday, telling voters that Youngkin would protect suburbs. In his brief call, he made no mention of his past warnings that Virginia’s election could be marred by fraud.

Both Biden and former President Barack Obama hit the campaign trail with McAuliffe.

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China slashes COVID quarantine time for international travellers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Tuesday slashed the quarantine time for inbound travellers by half in a major easing of one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 curbs, which have deterred travel in and out of the country since 2020.

Quarantine at centralised facilities has been cut to seven days from 14, and subsequent at-home health monitoring has been reduced to three days from seven, the National Health Commission said.

The latest guidelines from the health authority also eased quarantine requirements for close contacts of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

China has cautiously eased its COVID curbs on cross-border travellers in recent months, with health officials saying the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant allows for an adjustment of quarantine periods.

The Chinese capital Beijing in recent months has already reduced the quarantine period at centralised facilities to 10 days from 14.

China, last month, also removed some COVID-19 test requirements for people flying in from countries such as the United States.

“We believe that today’s announcement will be welcomed by the American business community,” the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said on its official WeChat account.

The quarantine adjustment will make it easier for companies to bring staff to China, and for Chinese companies and their executives to visit the United States, AmCham said.

Stock markets rose in Hong Kong and the mainland, with the Hang Seng Index reversing losses and ticking up roughly 0.4% and the CSI300 Index gaining 0.7%.

Shares in mainland tourism companies jumped more than 5%.

China’s aviation regulator said this month it had been in touch with some countries to steadily increase the number of flights in the second half of 2022.

IN THE CLEAR

Beijing and Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear simultaneously since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19.

The Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort said on Tuesday that it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30; it had been shut for more than three months.

Authorities, however, were adamant the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

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Beijing, Shanghai both free of new local COVID cases for first time in months

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s capital, Beijing, and the financial hub of Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear at the same time since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19, following a crushing two-month citywide lockdown that was finally lifted in early June.

Authorities, however, remained wary and were adamant that the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

The city would build “a solid virus barrier”, Cai was quoted as saying on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

Despite easing COVID restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai, their combined 47 million residents have been told to go through COVID testing every few days, to maintain access to public spaces and transport.

Elsewhere in mainland China, a total of 22 domestically transmitted infections were reported for June 27, including five in the southern technology hub Shenzhen.

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U.S. appeals court vacates federal vaccine mandate pending additional hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A resident over 50 years old and immunocompromised receives a second booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court panel said on Monday it would convene a full panel to reconsider President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and set aside the order pending that hearing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, had reinstated the vaccine order in April by a 2-1 vote after it was blocked by a district court judge in January. [L2N2W530Z]

The court said on Monday that it would reconsider the case en banc, which means it will be heard by a larger panel of judges. No date was given for the hearing. Pending that hearing, the court said it would vacate the April ruling, which means that Biden’s order cannot be enforced.

Biden said in September he would require about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing. Despite the legal fight, more than 90% of federal workers were vaccinated by December, the White House said last year.

The president’s vaccine and mask mandates have faced stiff opposition, led by Republicans, which have turned public safety measures endorsed by disease experts into a political and legal battle in the United States.

The United States passed the milestone of 1 million dead from the coronavirus in May. More than 250 people still die of the disease daily, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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