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Threat of ‘highly Transmissible’ Omicron Variant Requires ‘urgent Action’, G7 Health Ministers Say




G7 health ministers said Monday that the threat of what may be a ‘highly transmissible’ Covid-19 variant ‘requires urgent action’ worldwide. First identified in South Africa, Omicron has spread to at least 14 other countries, prompting several nations to step up containment measures. Follow FRANCE 24 for live updates.


It could take “days to several weeks” to understand the level of severity of the variant, warned the World Health Organisation (WHO), which flagged Omicron as a “variant of concern”.

The Omicron variant has been found in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands.

7:05 pm Paris time: Spain detects first Omicron case

Spain has detected its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in a 51-year-old man who arrived from South Africa on Sunday after a layover in Amsterdam, Madrid’s regional health authority said on Monday, as the country’s overall infection rate rose.

The microbiology unit at Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital added in a separate post on Twitter that the patient was in fair condition with mild symptoms.

6:14 pm Paris time: UK extends eligibility for Covid vaccine booster shots to all adults

All adults in Britain will now be eligible for a third Covid jab, the government said on Monday, as concern mounted about the spread of the new Omicron variant.

Until now, only UK adults aged 40 and above were eligible for a booster dose six months after their last. But that timeframe will now be halved to three months, alongside the booster programme’s expansion to all those over 18, with priority given to older people.

5:00 pm Paris time: The new Covid variant Omicron requires ‘urgent action’, G7 health ministers say

The new Covid variant Omicron is highly transmissible and requires “urgent action,” G7 health ministers said Monday, praising South Africa’s “exemplary work” for both detecting the strain and alerting others to it.

Underlining the “strategic relevance of ensuring access to vaccines”, they pledged to hold to their donation commitments, as well as to provide support for research and development.

4:05 pm Paris time: The latest figures for Omicron cases in Europe

As of 4pm Paris time, 14 Covid-19 cases with the Omicron variant have been detected in the Netherlands, 13 in Portugal, 6 in Scotland and 1 in Austria.

3:50 pm Paris time: WHO calls for treaty to shield against next pandemic

The world must study the wreckage of Covid-19 and say “never again” by striking a pandemic preparedness treaty, the WHO said, as countries meet in Geneva from Monday to Wednesday to build a new accord.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said another disastrous pandemic was bound to happen unless countries showed the resolve to strengthen global defences.

3:35 pm Paris time: Vaccine makers start working on Omicron-tailored jabs

BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron in case their existing jabs are not effective against the new coronavirus variant, the companies said on Monday.

3:05 pm Paris time: Poland announces new curbs amid Omicron concerns, Germany to hold talks Tuesday on toughening restrictions

Poland said on Monday it would ban flights to seven African countries, extend the quarantine period for some travellers and reduce limits on numbers allowed into places like restaurants, amid concerns over the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor in waiting Olaf Scholz will hold talks Tuesday with leaders of Germany‘s 16 states on toughening restrictions to halt a surge of coronavirus infections, sources told AFP. This comes as Germany’s weekly infection rate soared to another new high of 452.4 per 100,000 people over the last seven days on Monday.

1:40 pm Paris time: Ukraine orders self-isolation for travellers from countries with Omicron cases

Ukraine has introduced mandatory 14-day self-isolation for travellers returning from countries where the Omicron variant of has been detected, the health ministry said.

“Travellers who have spent more than 7 days in the Republic of South Africa, the Republic of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Kingdom of Eswatini, and the Republic of Mozambique must complete 14 days of self-isolation,” it said in a statement, adding that the list would be expanded soon.

Health Minister Viktor Lyashko told a televised briefing earlier on Monday that Omicron cases had not been registered in Ukraine yet.

1:25 pm Paris time: Rwanda bans flights with southern Africa

Rwanda has barred direct flights to and from nine countries in southern Africa, joining a growing list of nations that have imposed travel restrictions over a new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant.

Direct flights between Rwanda and southern Africa will be temporarily suspended “effective immediately,” Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente announced late Sunday.

“While the variant has not been detected in Rwanda, its effects are potentially dangerous,” Ngirente said in a statement, urging extra vigilance.

The countries affected by the ban are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

All passengers who have arrived from those countries in the past seven days have to spend a week in quarantine, at their own cost, in designated hotels in Rwanda.

11:30 am Paris time: S. Africa expected to ‘top 10,000 Covid cases’ this week

The Omicron variant is likely to fuel a surge in South Africa‘s coronavirus cases that could see daily infections treble this week, a top epidemiologist warned. Health monitors reported over 2,800 infections on Sunday, up from a daily average of 500 in the previous week and 275 the week before.

“We can expect that higher transmissibility is likely and so we are going to get more cases quickly,” Dr Salim Abdool Karim said at an online health ministry press briefing.

“I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases by the end of the week per day,” he added.

South African scientists announced the new highly-mutated variant on Thursday, blaming it for a sudden rise in infections in Africa’s worst-hit nation.

10:40 am Paris time: Australia reverses border reopening plans

Australia abruptly reversed plans to reopen its international borders to skilled workers and students, an eleventh-hour decision prompted by concerns over the Omicron variant.

After an emergency security meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the much-heralded December 1 reopening will be delayed at least two weeks.

Australia’s borders have been closed to most non-citizens for more than 20 months, causing labour shortages and torpedoing the vital tourist industry.

Morrison described the delay as “a necessary and temporary decision” based on medical advice.

Australia has so far detected five cases of the Omicron variant.

9:15 am Paris time: Omicron poses ‘very high’ global risk, WHO says

The Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where Covid-19 surges could have “severe consequences” in some areas, the WHO said in a fresh statement.

The UN agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said. “The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”

8:45 am Paris time: Philippines ditches plans to let in vaccinated tourists

The Philippines has temporarily suspended a decision to allow fully vaccinated tourists entry in a bid to prevent the Omicron variant taking off in the country, where most of the population remains unvaccinated.

So far, the country has not reported any cases of the Omicron strain, which was first detected in South Africa and has since spread around the globe.

Manila announced plans last week to allow fully vaccinated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1 as it seeks to revive the nation’s battered economy.

But the government’s Covid-19 task force reversed course over the weekend as it announced the suspension of flights from seven European countries, in addition to an earlier ban on arrivals from several African nations.

8 am Paris time: Japan bars foreigners

Japan said it will shut its borders to foreigners to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant, joining Israel in imposing some of the strictest border controls since the variant’s discovery in South Africa.

Japan will bar entry to foreigners from midnight on Monday, and Japanese returnees from a number of specified nations will have to quarantine in designated facilities, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told journalists.

“These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Kishida continued.

“I’m prepared to bear all criticism from those saying the Kishida administration is being too cautious.”

This comes just a few weeks after Kishida’s new government eased quarantine measures on foreign business travellers to help boost the economy.

>> Read more: Japan to reinstate ban on foreign visitors

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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World at ‘inflection Point’ Warns Biden, Raising Alarm at Democracy Summit




Democracy faces “sustained and alarming challenges” worldwide, US President Joe Biden said Thursday at the opening of a virtual summit on democracy with representatives from some 100 countries.


Biden said trends were “largely pointing in the wrong direction” and that democracy needed “champions.”

“We stand at an inflection point,” he said. “Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked?”

The two-day event, held by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, was billed by the White House as US leadership in an existential struggle between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorships.

“Make no mistake, we’re at a moment of democratic reckoning,” said Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. “Countries in virtually every region of the world have experienced degrees of democratic backsliding.”

The summit featured opening remarks from Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with representatives from some 100 governments, as well as NGOs, private businesses, philanthropical organisations and legislatures attending.

China, Russia not invited

The conference is a test of Biden’s assertion, made in his first foreign policy address in February, that he would return the US to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

Both countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of America’s democracy. Biden is struggling to pass his agenda through a polarised Congress following the turbulent and disruptive Trump presidency.

Amid rising US-China tensions, the Biden administration’s decision to invite Taiwan has irked Beijing.

China considers Taiwan, a democratically ruled island, part of its territory.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the invitation of Taiwan showed the US was only using democracy as “cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests.”

‘Lip service’

Washington used the run-up to the summit to announce sanctions against officials in Iran, Syria and Uganda it accuses of oppressing their populations, and against people it accuses of being tied to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.

US officials hope to win support during the meetings for global initiatives, such as use of technology to enhance privacy or circumvent censorship, and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies before an in-person summit planned for late 2022.

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at non-profit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and to spur coordination between democratic governments.

“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are implemented in the year ahead,” Boyajian said.

Zeya at the State Department said civil society would help hold the countries, including the United States, accountable. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would disinvite leaders who did not fulfill their pledges.

Human Rights Watch’s Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the invitation to the 2022 summit dependent on delivering on commitments was the only way to get nations to step up.

Otherwise, Holewinski said, some “will only pay lip service to human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”

“They shouldn’t get invited back,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Top US Scientist Fauci: Omicron ‘almost Certainly Not More Severe’ Than Delta Variant




Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.Read More


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Suspected Member of Khashoggi Hit Squad Arrested at Paris Airport




French police Tuesday arrested at Paris’s main airport a suspected member of the team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, sources said.Read More

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