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UK’s Johnson: Lockdown ‘unlikely’ in England Despite Concerns Over Omicron Variant




The fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus had on Tuesday been detected in a number of new countries, including in Japan. Despite mounting concerns, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that a new Covid-19 lockdown in England was “unlikely” at this stage.


The Omicron variant first detected in South Africa poses a “very high” global risk, the World Health Organization has warned, urging governments to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups. Follow FRANCE 24’s coverage of the day’s events.

18:05 pm Paris time: Covid hospitalisations top 10,000 in France

The number of people with coronavirus in French hospitals rose by 389 to 10,249 on Tuesday, the first time the patient tally was above 10,000 since September 12, health ministry data showed.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran also said that France had registered about 47,000 new confirmed Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours – the highest one-day tally since April 8, at the height of the third wave of the pandemic.

17:37 pm Paris time: A lockdown in England over Omicron is ‘extremely unlikely’, UK PM Johnson says

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that a new Covid-19 lockdown was not needed at this stage to deal with the Omicron variant.

“I think another lockdown of the kind that we’ve had before is extremely unlikely,” Johnson told a media conference. “But we keep everything under constant review,” he added.

16:55 pm Paris time: BioNTech CEO says Pfizer vaccine protects against severe Covid from Omicron

The BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine will likely offer strong protection against any severe disease from the new Omicron coronavirus variant, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters, even as the firm weighs the need to upgrade its commonly used jab.

Lab tests are under way over the next two weeks to analyse the blood of people who had two or three doses of BioNTech’s Comirnaty vaccine, to see if antibodies found in that blood inactivate Omicron.

Sahin told Reuters he expects results to show some loss of vaccine protection against mild and moderate disease due to Omicron, but the extent of that loss was hard to predict.

14:51 pm Paris time: WHO chief calls for ‘rational’ measures

The World Health Organization has called for countries to keep calm and take “rational” measures in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

“We call on all member states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing to countries.

“We still have more questions than answers about the effect of Omicron on transmission, severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines,” he added.

13:29 pm Paris time: Putin demands ‘action plan’ for Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the government to prepare an action plan within the next week to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Putin said it was important to maintain supplies of drugs, oxygen and hospital beds.

“It is necessary to constantly monitor the effectiveness of tests and vaccines, to use clear algorithms to reduce the spread of infection,” he said.

Russia has not yet reported any cases of Omicron, but suffered its deadliest month from Covid-19 in October, forcing it to impose a week-long nationwide workplace shutdown at the start of November.

On Tuesday the Russian coronavirus task force reported 33,860 new cases and 1,209 deaths in the past 24 hours. Since the start of the pandemic, it has recorded more than 9.6 million Covid-19 infections, and 275,193 deaths.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is still awaiting approval by the World Health Organization.

13:20 pm Paris time: Britain enforces face masks again

Britain on Tuesday made the wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport compulsory again in a bid to curb the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Some retailers, however, have said that even though they support the measure, they won’t enforce it on their customers, fearing abuse on their staff.

“What I won’t be doing is asking my store colleagues to police those who refuse to adhere to the rules. They’re already working under significant pressure, especially as we hit the busiest trading month of the year,” Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland supermarket chain told BBC radio.

Industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium has said enforcement of face coverings must remain the duty of the authorities, and not retailers.

11:57 am Paris time: 42 Omicron cases confirmed in 10 EU countries

The head of the European Union’s public health agency has announced that 42 Omicron variant cases have been confirmed in ten EU countries.

Andrea Ammon, who chairs the European Centre for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC), told an online conference that authorities in the EU were analysing another six “probable” cases, noting that confirmed cases were mild or without symptoms.

11:39 am Paris time: Omicron found in Netherlands before South Africa flights

The new fast-spreading Omicron variant was detected in the Netherlands a week earlier than previously thought – prior to the November 26 flights from South Africa initially blamed for bringing the mutated coronavirus into the country, the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said Tuesday.

“We have found the Omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on November 19 and November 23,” it said. “It is not clear yet whether these people have visited southern Africa.”

At least 14 people on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town arrived in the Netherlands on Nov. 26 carried the new variant, the RIVM said.

11:30 am Paris time: EU could approve Omicron-tailored jab ‘in 3-4 months’

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it could approve vaccines adapted to target the Omicron variant of the coronavirus within three to four months if needed, but that existing shots will continue to provide protection.

“Were there a need to change the existing vaccines, we could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months,” EMA executive director Emer Cooke told the European Parliament.

“Companies adapting their formulations to include the new sequencing (…) will then have to show that the production system works, they will then have to do some clinical trials to determine that this actually works in practice.”

11:20 am Paris time: EU urges members to step up detection of coronavirus mutations

The European Union’s health commissioner Stella Kyriakides has urged member states to boost efforts to detect coronavirus mutations in a letter sent out to health ministers.

“Certain Member States lag behind considerably in terms of this crucial dimension,” she wrote.

The Omicron variant, which was first found in southern Africa, has now been identified in several European countries, but it is hard to track its spread as various countries do not carry out sufficient genome sequencing of positive samples.

Covid’s new variant: How to effectively stop the spread of Omicron?


11:10 am Paris time: Norway urges public to wear facemasks

Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoereon has urged members of the public to wear face masks on public transport and in other crowded places amid a surge in new coronavirus infections.

He also urged municipalities to accelerate a drive to give booster shots to all adults, saying: “we can avoid a lockdown.”

Norway in September ended all domestic coronavirus restrictions, but opposition parties in recent days called on the government to take action to prevent the spread of the virus and thus avoid a hard lockdown of society.

10:30 am Paris time: Moderna says existing vaccines will struggle against Omicron

In an interview with the Financial Times, Stephane Bancel, the head of US vaccine manufacturer Moderna said that data will be available on the effectiveness of current vaccines in the next two weeks but that scientists are not optimistic.

“All the scientists I’ve talked to … are like ‘this is not going to be good’,” he said, adding there will be be a “material drop” in the effectiveness of current jabs against Omicron.

Bancel said researchers were concerned because 32 of 50 mutations found in the Omicron variant were on the spike protein, a part of the virus that vaccines use to bolster the immune system against Covid-19.

Moderna has already said it is working on an Omicron-specific vaccine, as is US drugmaker Pfizer.

Chief executive Bancel said his company could deliver between two billion and three billion doses in 2022 but it would be dangerous to shift all production to an Omicron-specific shot with other strains of the virus still in circulation.

09:30 am Paris time: China says Omicron will pose ‘challenges’ for Winter Olympics

China has warned that the Omicron variant will cause challenges in hosting next February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“I think it will definitely lead to challenges linked to prevention and control,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said

09.00 am Paris time: Japan confirms its first case of Omicron variant

Japan has confirmed its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a day after authorities announced new Covid border restrictions.

The case was flagged during routine testing at an airport, where a man in his 30s, who had travelled to Japan from Namibia, tested positive to Covid-19.

The man is now in isolation at a medical facility.

On Monday, Japan tightened its border rules, barring all new foreign arrivals to the country for fears of the newly discovered variant.

Japan has recorded just over 18,300 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic.

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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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