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Richmond council talks with Libyan official as country copes with coronavirus and war

Residents of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, are living in the middle of a civil war during a global pandemic.The Richmond World Affairs Council, a nonprofit that holds speaker forums to educate the public on international affairs, held a conference call this month with Mohammed Ali Abdallah, the political adviser for U.S. affairs to the Prime Minister of Libya, to discuss the conflict.

Capital News Service

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By Eric Everington

Residents of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, are living in the middle of a civil war during a global pandemic.

The Richmond World Affairs Council, a nonprofit that holds speaker forums to educate the public on international affairs, held a conference call this month with Mohammed Ali Abdallah, political adviser for U.S. affairs to the prime minister of Libya, to discuss the conflict.

In-person programs held monthly at the Jefferson Hotel are currently on pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the council has shifted to virtual events.

In April 2019 Libyan military Commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an attack on Tripoli to overthrow the Government of National Accord, instigating a war that over the past year has killed more than 2,200 people, displaced over 200,000, and made oil-rich Libya the center of an international proxy.

The battle for Tripoli has been intervened by Russia, Turkey and neighboring countries who have recently pushed for both sides to accept a cease-fire.

The Libyan National Army pledged to halt its advance on Tripoli March 21 amid pleas of cease-fire, but within minutes of the army announcing its agreement on Facebook, it attacked the densely populated neighborhood Bab Ben Ghashir, the New York Times reported. Two children were injured.

Even after the United Nations pleaded with the groups for a “humanitarian pause” to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, both sides seem to be taking advantage of the international focus on the pandemic to gain more territory.

Abdallah said on the call that the fate of Libyan citizens has been disregarded.

 “It is a missed opportunity,” he said. “Haftar has actually accelerated his military campaign and he completely disregarded the situation and he’s continued to bring in fighters from different regions including virus hot spots.”

New York Times reporter Haley Willis tweeted that Tripoli residents all have the same fear: they’re told to stay home, but residential areas are still being shelled almost every day.

“So we spoke with them about being caught between the virus and a civil war,” Willis wrote.“They feel there’s nowhere safe to run.”

Libya is now on a government-imposed lockdown that started Friday, April 17 and is set to last for 10 days, according to France24 news. Libyans will be allowed to move from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to buy their basic needs from small shops but will be quarantined to their homes outside of that timeframe.

Former U.S. official Megan Doherty told Al Arabiya English that “it will be impossible to contain a coronavirus outbreak in Libya with medical facilities and staff caught in the war’s crossfire.”

As of April 23, Libya had reported 60 cases of coronavirus and two deaths. More than 800 tests have been performed, according to a United Nations report released April 21.

“From a public awareness standpoint, we’ve been pretty lucky thus far that the number of cases have relatively few, but I think a lot of it is just that fact that we just don’t have the testing and not a lot of people are coming forward to do the testing,” Abdallah said.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in Libya without water and electricity as hospitals are being attacked.

“When I talk to my friends and family in Libya, the topic isn’t about the coronavirus like the rest of the world is talking about, the virus is not the first thing they talk about,” Abdallah said.“They’re like ‘Oh, today we had like 20 rockets fall on us, and I don’t know if my son is going to come back or not.’”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Majority of Virginia to enter Phase Two of reopening; Richmond to remain in Phase One for now

Richmond and Northern Virginia will remain in Phase One while surrounding localities can now ease restrictions on gatherings, indoor dining, and other uses.

RVAHub Staff

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Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Sixty-Five and presented the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue safely and gradually easing public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also amended Executive Order Sixty-One directing Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond to remain in Phase One.

Most of Virginia is expected to enter Phase Two on Friday, June 5, as key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to trend downward as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the indicators laid out in April.

“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” said Governor Northam. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

Executive Order Sixty-Five modifies public health guidance in Executive Order Sixty-One and Sixty-Two and establishes guidelines for Phase Two. Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond entered Phase One on Friday, May 29, and will remain in Phase One to allow for additional monitoring of health data. Accomack County delayed reopening due to outbreaks in poultry plants, which have largely been controlled through rigorous testing. Accomack County will move to Phase Two with the rest of the Commonwealth, on Friday, June 5.

Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures.

Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two. Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs, and carnivals will also remain closed in Phase Two.

Phase Two guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase One guidelines sectors are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Five and Order of Public Health Emergency Six is available here.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-One can be found here.

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Crime

Richmond Police, Mayor Stoney apologize after tear gas deployed before curfew on protesters

Protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday night and were met with a forceful response and the deployment of tear gas by Richmond Police – an action for which the department and Mayor Stoney later apologized.

RVAHub Staff

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Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday afternoon and evening to speak out after the death of George Floyd. The group organized near both the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart Monuments on Monument Avenue and remained mainly peaceful until police approached demonstrators at the Lee statue and deployed tear gas, as can be seen below from the below Twitter video from VPM.

Around the same time, reports began coming in that protesters at the Stuart monument were attempting to bring it down. A young demonstrator scaled the base of the statue and took what appeared to be a hack saw to the leg of the monument’s horse in an effort to bring it down. Police responded by calling on protesters to stand down, citing the weight of the monuments and their potential to crush bystanders.

Richmond Police and Mayor Levar Stoney later apologized for the deployment of tear gas on peaceful protesters – well below the 8:00 PM curfew – saying it was uncalled for and inviting protesters to City Hall at noon Tuesday to “apologize in person.” For its part, RPD said the officers involved had been “removed from the field” and would be subject to disciplinary action.

The protesters then continued marching down Franklin Street, then W. Broad Street, where things fizzled out around 10:30 PM near 14th Street.

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Business

Department of Public Utilities encourages reopening businesses to flush water before use

As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

RVAHub Staff

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The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has been providing safe drinking water during the COVID-19 pandemic and it remains a priority. As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

With non-essential business being closed due to COVID-19 since March, water has been sitting in pipes. This water can lose the benefits of necessary disinfection, which could lead to bacteria growth and thus unsuitable for drinking, hand washing, or other uses. Additionally, turning on water after prolonged closures could disrupt plumbing materials and release contaminants into the water.

“To ensure fresh water is being used by newly reopening businesses, we strongly encourage them to flush the water in their systems. This is important to maintain the public health and safety of all residents and visitors,” says DPU Director Calvin D. Farr, Jr.

This process includes running water through all faucets, fountains, and other water treatment/enhancement systems with both hot and cold water for several minutes before using.

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