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Showing posts with label INTERNATIONAL NEWS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label INTERNATIONAL NEWS. Show all posts

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Global need for humanitarian aid to 'skyrocket' in 2022

 

UN humanitarian agency OCHA has estimated that 274 million people worldwide would need some form of emergency assistance next year, up 17 percent on an already record-breaking 2021.

The report by OCHA  presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by conflicts and worsening instability in places like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, and Myanmar.
The report by OCHA presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by conflicts and worsening instability in places like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, and Myanmar. (Reuters)

The United Nations has warned that the need for humanitarian aid is skyrocketing worldwide, as the pandemic continues to rage, and climate change and conflicts push more people to the brink of famine.

One in 29 people will need help next year, the UN's humanitarian agency OCHA found in its Global Humanitarian Overview report published on Wednesday.

This marks a 250-percent-increase since 2015 when one in 95 needed assistance.

OCHA estimated that 274 million people worldwide would need some form of emergency assistance in 2022, up 17 percent on an already record-breaking 2021.

The number of people in need "has never been as high as this", UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters.

The annual appeal said that providing aid to the 183 million most vulnerable people across 63 countries next year would require $41 billion, up from the $35 billion requested for 2021.


Covid-19, climate crisis

The report pointed out that the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic along with measures aimed at reining in the virus, had pushed some 20 million more people into extreme poverty.

It has also devastated health systems worldwide, with testing for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria plunging 43 percent, and 23 million children worldwide missing basic childhood vaccines in 2021.

The report also warned that by 2050 as many as 216 million people could be forced to move within their own countries due to the effects of global warming.

"Without sustained and immediate action, 2022 could be catastrophic," it cautioned, pointing out that as many as 811 million people worldwide are already undernourished.


Heavy toll of conflicts

The appeal warned that more than 24 million people — 65 percent of the Afghan population — needed aid, including around nine million people expected to be on the brink of famine.

It requested $4.5 billion to help the 22 million most vulnerable people in Afghanistan in 2022 — tripling its ask from a year ago.

Billions of dollars were also requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the drawn-out conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

And the appeal highlighted swelling needs in Ethiopia, where thousands have died and millions have been displaced since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northern Tigray region more than a year ago.

Griffiths said the situation in Ethiopia was perhaps the world's "most alarming" with an estimated 26 million people requiring humanitarian aid.


 Source: AFP

 

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First case of Omicron found in US – latest updates

 

Covid-19 has infected more than 263M people and killed over 5.2M worldwide. Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Public health officials said the infected person, who had mild and improving symptoms, returned to the United States from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive seven days later.
Public health officials said the infected person, who had mild and improving symptoms, returned to the United States from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive seven days later. (AFP)

Thursday, December 2, 2021

US reports its first known Omicron case

The United States has identified its first known Covid case caused by the Omicron variant, discovered in a fully vaccinated patient who traveled to South Africa, as scientists continue to study the risks the new version could pose.

Public health officials said the infected person, who had mild and improving symptoms, returned to the United States from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive seven days later.

That patient was fully vaccinated but did not have a booster shot, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease official, who briefed reporters at the White House.

The person is in self-quarantine and all of the patient's close contacts have tested negative, he said.

South Korea sees more than 5,000 new cases

South Korea's daily coronavirus case numbers have risen to a new high, as authorities halted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers for two weeks in a bid to fend off the Omicron variant.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 5,266 new cases, a day after the daily tally rose above 5,000 for the first time amid concerns over a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms.

South Korea will require a 10-day quarantine for all inbound travellers for two weeks starting on Friday, halting exemptions given earlier to fully vaccinated people, the KDCA said.

South Africa 'punished' with travel ban for detecting new variants quicker

South Africa's president has said that the latest round of Covid-19-related travel bans is akin to punishing the country for its advanced genomic sequencing and ability to detect new variants quicker.

"Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," Cyril Ramaphosa said in his opening remarks during a state visit to Nigeria.

Last week, South African scientists announced that they had discovered a new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations compared to previous variants and reported it to the World Health Organization, which named it Omicron.

Days later, a number of countries imposed travel bans on South Africa and other southern African countries, including Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

Facebook hits anti-vaccine campaign harassing doctors

Facebook's parent company Meta has said it derailed an anti-vaccine campaign that harassed medical workers, journalists, and elected officials, in a signal of the ongoing pressure from coronavirus pandemic-tied misinformation.

The social media giant took down accounts in France and Italy that were linked to a conspiracy movement called "V_V", which inundated pro-vaccine posts with potentially tens of thousands of comments.

"V-V" supporters also "mass-harassed" people on YouTube, Twitter, VKontakte, and other online platforms, using swastikas or other images as well as calling doctors and media workers "Nazi supporters" for backing vaccines, Meta said.

The company's update regarding efforts to counter misinformation and harassment on its platform comes as the tech giant battles accusations that it puts profit over user safety.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies 

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Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Gas-addicted Pakistanis feel the pinch

 

Successive governments handed out gas connections like sweet cakes. Now the people don’t have enough to cook their daily meals.

Pakistanis love to cook. Until a few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see a constant, flickering flame on a gas burner in the average home — even when no meal was being prepared. 

People would simply use paper strips cut out of old textbooks to light the other burners when the need arose. 

“We saved matchsticks. They were expensive,” Atiya, a homemaker, tells TRT World

Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, gas has typically been cheap and readily available. But things aren't the same anymore. Pakistanis are now struggling to cope with hours-long gas outages.

“I have never witnessed such a situation when we don’t have gas for hours. It has become difficult to make a cup of tea in the evenings,” says Atiya, a housewife who lives in the port city of Karachi. 

For the winter season, Islamabad has rolled out a schedule of intermittent supply cuts across the country. The goal is to manage a widening gap between supply and demand. 

Household consumers who use gas to run stoves and water heaters have also seen a sharp increase in their monthly bills. 

A sudden surge in gas demand in the international market has affected consumers in other places, too, from Japan to Germany.  

But Pakistan’s case is unique because it started importing gas only six years ago. For decades it met domestic requirements from its own oil and gas fields. Much of that came from a place called Sui. 

An early find 

In 1952, petroleum geologists working in the southern Balochistan province discovered a massic gas field. With reserves of 9 trillion cubic feet (TCF), the Sui Gas Field remains the largest find in Pakistan’s history. 

That discovery spurred construction of a nation-wide network of pipelines, which carried gas from far-off petroleum fields to homes, restaurants and factories. 

To put this in perspective, consider that Pakistan’s total pipeline length is around 150,000 km. Nigeria, which sits on top of larger proven gas reserves, has a network not exceeding 6,000 km. 

A shortage of gas is also one of the reasons for the frequent power outages in the country.
A shortage of gas is also one of the reasons for the frequent power outages in the country. (AP)

Over the years, successive Pakistani governments vigorously promoted gas connections in towns and villages to win votes. They did this without realising that new gas reserves were not easy to find, says G A Sabri, a retired petroleum ministry official. 

“Our policy of encouraging use of gas in homes was absolutely wrong. We politicised the entire distribution system,” he tells TRT World

Policymakers lambasted officials who opposed the policy as being against development and progress, he says. 

 For years Pakistan sold gas to households at dirt-cheap prices - at rates that were even less than what it cost to pump the gas out of the ground, process it, and then transport it across the country. 

“You have now reached a level that the domestic gas production is seriously short of what you want,” said Iqbal Z Ahmed, chairman of Pakistan GasPort, which operates one of the LNG import terminals. 

“And you have everybody addicted to gas. Pakistan has one of the world’s most extensive spaghetti-like pipeline networks for individual customers.” 

The expansion of pipeline connections was also inadvertently encouraged by the World Bank. 

The global lender had given loans to Pakistan’s two state-run distribution companies — Sui Southern and Sui Northern — on the condition of pegging the profit to a return on their capital investment. 

That basically meant that it was in the interest of the distribution companies to add more pipelines to their network every year and increase total assets to earn more money. 

Then there was corruption. 

“The regional managers at these distribution companies were busy making their own PR with the ministers by approving new schemes and in return they took benefits,” says Sabri. 

Top officials at distribution companies would make periodic trips to rural towns in a fleet of 4x4s. There local politicians would court them with sumptuous meals and entertainment. A promise to give a gas or electricity connection has long been an election rallying cry in Pakistan. 

While piped-gas use increased in Pakistan, the situation was different in neighbouring India, where consumers in major cities still rely on LPG (liquified petroleum gas) cylinders in their homes. 

Plans to import gas from Iran via a pipeline never materialised, something which has worsened the shortages.
Plans to import gas from Iran via a pipeline never materialised, something which has worsened the shortages. (AP)

Officials say another of Pakistan’s policy blunders, which has led to the present crisis, was the promotion of gas in the auto sector. 

By the mid-2000s, Pakistan ranked first in the world when it came to the ratio of vehicles that used compressed natural gas (CNG) as fuel.  

A whole CNG industry sprouted up with roadside vendors and gas fuel stations in every nook and cranny. The sector siphoned off a substantial chunk of Pakistan’s national gas supply, often creating shortages for other industrial consumers such as garment manufacturers. 

This week the government banned CNG use for two months in a bid to manage a gas shortfall, which is now twice as much as what’s produced by the local fields. 

Pakistan’s daily gas production has fallen to 3.5 billion cubic feet (BCF) after years of remaining stagnant at 4 BCF. As domestic consumption increased, petroleum producers have struggled to find major gas fields. 

A lost opportunity 

By 2013, Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), the company that found the Sui field, was drilling for new gas reserves on the outskirts of Karachi, the country's commercial heart. 

Searching so close to a major metropolis was a sign of the great difficulties companies have faced trying to find conventional gas fields in more far-flung regions. 

“The last major discovery in Pakistan was the Qadirpur field,” says Masood Siddiqui, a senior petroleum industry executive, referring to a reserve found in 1990. 

“Problem is that our gas production was not able to keep up with the demand and the output from existing fields was declining fast,” he says. 

Restive Balochistan province, home to Sui field, remains largely unexplored despite making up more than 40 percent of Pakistan’s land mass. 

A separatist insurgency, internal politics, distrust among the locals and frequent military operations make petroleum exploration difficult in the region. 

“We have asked the government to create a special security force to assist the exploration companies to work around this issue,” says Siddiqui, who is the former vice chairman of the Pakistan Petroleum Exploration and Production Companies Association. 

Pakistan has lagged behind others in exploiting shale gas potential. Unlike conventional fields, shale requires more effort and investment to pump out gas from the underground reservoirs. 

Similarly, there are dozens of marginal fields - gas wells that have been abandoned because they don’t have sufficient output to make them economically viable - that can still help ease gas shortages. 

Siddiqui says Islamabad would need to offer better incentives such as tax breaks to exploration companies if it wants to exploit shale and marginal reserves. 

“Look, initially the price of gas from these fields will be high. But as the technology gets transferred then it will come down, just like it happened with mobile phone connections.” 

Source: TRT World  

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Covid conspiracy theories fuel unrest in Europe

 

As public backlash to reimposed Covid-19 restrictions in Austria and the Netherlands intensify, so too has the spread of misinformation.

With infection rates rising and government restrictions returning, misinformation and conspiracy theories are flourishing once again across Europe, fuelling protests and political backlash.

In the face of governments clamping down to curb the virus, thousands have taken to the streets to demonstrate against Covid restrictions in Austria, Netherlands, Italy, Croatia and Switzerland.

Last week, the World Health Organization described the challenge faced by Europe as “very serious,” with almost 4,200 deaths a day recorded compared to 2,100 a day back in September.

After Austria went into its fourth national lockdown last Monday, around 40,000 protestors descended on downtown Vienna in a rally organised by the far-right Freedom Party, the third largest political party in the country.

“STOPP Impffaschismus,” (stop vaccine fascism) one sign in Vienna read. “Kontrolliert die Grenze, nicht euer volk,” (control the border, not your people) another said, among the slogans that mixed vaccine scepticism with far-right ideology.

The Freedom Party’s leader, Herbert Kickl, has regularly expressed misleading views, like describing vaccinations as a genetic experiment and legitimising “apartheid”.

The Austrian government stated that vaccinations will be made mandatory from February next year.

Austrian journalist Michael Bonvalot believes the far-right have capitalised on discontent some of the public 

 

 

Austrian journalist Michael Bonvalot believes the far-right have capitalised on discontent some of the public have towards the government’s pandemic regulations to organise around anti-Covid measures and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

“If we look at the numbers right now, I think there is 20-25 percent of the population which are not entirely happy and are close to some kind of conspiracy theories, and that’s who the right-wing extremists are trying to recruit,” Bonvalot said.

In the areas where the right-wing movement is strong, “[fewer] people are vaccinated and more people get ill,” he added.

Less than 65 percent of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, below the European average and far behind those like Spain where it is nearly 80 percent.

In September, another Austrian outfit – the newly formed anti-vaccination People, Freedom, Fundamental Rights party (MFG) – rode a wave of vaccine hesitancy to win 6.4 percent of the vote in Upper Austria’s regional election, enough to nab three seats in parliament.

The MFG has been influential in planning recent protests on the ground, going as far as to draw parallels to the Nazis to describe Covid restrictions.

The Dutch riot

Last week in the Netherlands, the response to the government’s recent curfew turned violent, as social media was used not only to organise protests but also spread disinformation.

“What is unique about the Netherlands is that we have repeatedly seen Covid protests turn into riots just this year,” said Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).

An ISD study found that on Facebook, the top 125 groups disseminating false information about the pandemic experienced a 63 percent rise in followers over the past six months, or 789,000 members in a country of 17 million.

Telegram groups during last week’s riots were filled with calls for demonstrations along with hateful messages targeting Jews, Muslims and gay people.

While social media groups don’t usually call for violence, “they may accept it as part of the solution,” O’Connor said.

“The anti-vax and anti-Covid movement is creating a space allowing for other forces to engage and express their frustration in a violent way.”

While a vocal minority in the country, anti-vaxxer elements have had their voices amplified by a sympathetic political ally in parliament, the far-right Forum for Democracy party.

The group’s leader, Thierry Baudet – dubbed the “Dutch Donald Trump” – has pivoted from anti-immigrant rhetoric to adopt an anti-vaccination position.


 

Exploiting public distrust

The driving fear among anti-vaxxers is generally focused on government abuse of power. New research carried out in Austria indicates that low trust in vaccines is strongly linked with low trust in authority overall.

But that mistrust is increasingly being co-opted by the far-right through an adoption of baseless theories that vaccines are deadly or part of a sinister global plot, which social media has exacerbated by playing to negativity biases around public health messages.

Human beings “react to things that are very scary or frightening and give them disproportionate weight,” conspiracy theories expert David Robert Grimes said in an interview.

“Covid has upended the entire world, which is very fertile ground for conspiracy theories to breed and we have seen several iterations of this throughout the pandemic. The anti-vaccine core has capitalised on this and caught other people in their wake.”

Further protests are being planned this weekend in Austria and the Netherlands.

Source: TRT World
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Ethiopian army recaptures several towns near capital from Tigrayan rebels

 

Ethiopian forces have reportedly taken back towns near Addis Ababa, including Shewa Robit, which were captures by the rebels last week.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said the government would
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said the government would "in a short period of time" retake Dessie and Lalibela. (AP Archive)

Ethiopia has claimed it has recaptured several towns after Tigrayan rebels took control of them last week as part of their advance towards the capital.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said on Wednesday that Ethiopian forces took back towns nearby capital Addis Ababa, including Shewa Robit which is around 220 kilometres away.

"In Shewa front, the Mezezo, Molale, Shewa Robit, Rasa and its surroundings have been freed from the terrorist TPLF," Legesse said in comments broadcast on state media.

Legesse was referring to the Tigray People's Liberation Front group which has been locked in a war with Abiy's government since November 2020.

He also said the government would "in a short period of time" retake Dessie and Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site that fell to the rebels in August.

Meanwhile, fighting has reportedly spread to Debre Sina, a town located less than 200 kilometres by road from Addis Ababa.

 


March on Addis Ababa 

The conflict took a sharp turn around a month ago, when the TPLF claimed to have captured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, located on a key highway to the capital.

Abiy last week announced he would head to the battlefield as fighting reportedly rages on at least three fronts in the country.

In recent days, state media has broadcast images of a uniformed Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, in what appeared to be the northeastern region of Afar.

On Sunday, state media claimed the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said on Tuesday such gains would be replicated in Amhara region, where Dessie lies.

READ MORE: Ethiopian PM: Govt forces close to victory, rebels should 'surrender'

Fears of a rebel march on Addis Ababa have prompted the United States, France, Britain and other countries to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible.

Abiy's government says TPLF gains are overstated and the city is secure.

The fighting has killed thousands, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.


 Source: TRTWorld and agencies 

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Ukraine urges NATO to prepare sanctions to counter Russia's aggression

 

As Kiev's relations with Moscow have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended, Ukraine appeals to NATO to help deter an anticipated Russian attack.

The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country.
The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. (AP)

Ukraine has urged NATO to prepare economic sanctions on Russia and boost military cooperation with Kiev to deter Russia from a renewed attack after Moscow massed troops close by.

The appeal came on Wednesday as Ukraine joined the Western alliance for talks about preventing an anticipated military operation by Russia.

"We will call on the allies to join Ukraine in putting together a deterrence package," Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told reporters as he arrived for talks with his NATO counterparts in Riga.

As part of this package, NATO should prepare economic sanctions against Russia in case it "decides to chose the worst-case scenario", he said, adding NATO should boost military and defence cooperation with Ukraine.

"We are confident that if we join efforts, ... we will be able to deter President Putin and to demotivate him from choosing the worst-case scenario, which is a military operation," Kuleba said. 



'Severe consequences'

A former Soviet republic that now aspires to join the European Union and NATO, Ukraine has become a potential flashpoint between Russia and the West.

Any military operation that would violate Ukraine's sovereignty would be met with "severe consequences", Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told reporters, saying Denmark was ready to engage with "heavy" sanctions.

His comments echoed those of NATO and the United States, who on Tuesday issued stark warnings to Russia that it would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine.

"Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin countered that Russia would be forced to act if US-led NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.

Kuleba also warned against a recognition of Crimea by Belarus, a close Russia ally, after Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said the Crimean Peninsula was legally Russian territory, RIA news agency reported.

"The potential recognition of the occupied Crimea by Belarus will be a point of no return in our bilateral relations, and we will act respectively. Because for us, Crimea is not a field for compromises," Kuleba added.

The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. The conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kiev, and is still simmering.


Source: TRT World and agencies

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Castro set to become Honduras' president as rival concedes defeat

 

Nasry Asfura of ruling National Party congratulates leftist rival Xiomara Castro despite only about half of voting tallies having been counted.

Free Party's Xiomara Castro (C) rode a wave of popular discontent with 12 years of National Party governance.
Free Party's Xiomara Castro (C) rode a wave of popular discontent with 12 years of National Party governance. (AP)

Honduras ruling party has conceded defeat in presidential elections held two days earlier, giving victory to leftist opposition candidate Xiomara Castro and easing fears of another contested vote and violent protests.

Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Asfura of the National Party said in a statement on Tuesday that he had personally congratulated Castro, despite only about half of the voting tallies having been counted. He was trailing by about 354,000 votes.

With 52 percent of the tallies counted, Castro had 53 percent support to Asfura's 34 percent, according to the National Electoral Council.

The council has 30 days from the election to declare a winner.

Asfura said he met with Castro and her family. 

"Now I want to say it publicly," Asfura said. 

"That I congratulate her for her victory and as president-elect, I hope that God illuminates and guides her so that her administration does the best for the benefit of all of us Hondurans, to achieve that development and the desires for democracy."

 

US congratulates Castro

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Castro minutes later.

"The United States congratulates the people of Honduras on their election and Xiomara Castro on her historic victory as Honduras' first female president," Blinken said in a statement. 

"We look forward to working with the next government of Honduras. We congratulate Hondurans for the high voter turnout, peaceful participation, and active civil society engagement that marked this election, signaling an enduring commitment to the democratic process."

Castro rode a wave of popular discontent with 12 years of National Party governance, which peaked in the second term of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Expectations of a Castro victory drove thousands into the streets of Tegucigalpa on Sunday in celebration.

On Monday, the capital's streets were quiet as if it were a holiday and Hondurans exhaled in relief that the election had not taken a violent turn.


Source: AP 

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Findings indicate Omicron was in Europe before South Africa detected it

 

Many government officials have tried to calm fears, insisting that vaccines remain the best defence against Omicron.

The Netherlands, France and Japan have reported their first cases of the new variant.
The Netherlands, France and Japan have reported their first cases of the new variant. (Reuters)

New findings about the coronavirus's Omicron variant have made it clear that the mutated virus slipped into countries well before South Africa raised the alarm.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found Omicron in samples dating from November 19 and 23, AP reported on Tuesday. 

South Africa first reported the variant to the UN health agency on Nov. 24.

Japan and France reported their first cases of the new variant, putting people around the world between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.

The WHO warned on Monday that the global risk from Omicron is “very high” and that early evidence suggests it may be more contagious.

While it is not known how effective current vaccines are against Omicron, European Medicines Agency chief Emer Cooke said the shots could be adapted within three or four months if need be.


Haphazard response

But nearly two years after the virus first held the world in its grip, the current response echoed in many ways the chaos of the early days, including haphazard travel bans and a poor understanding of who was at risk and where.

Many officials tried to calm fears, insisting vaccines remain the best defence and that the world must redouble its efforts to get the shots to every part of the globe.

The latest variant makes those efforts even more important, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, noting as many have before that “as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating.”

England made face coverings mandatory again on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers. And one month ahead of Christmas, the head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, Jenny Harries, urged people not to socialise if they don’t need to.


Emphasis on vaccination

In a world already unnerved by the more contagious Delta variant that filled hospitals even in some highly vaccinated nations, the latest developments underscore the need for the whole globe to get their hands on vaccines.

“We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70 percent, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15 percent or less,” Blinken said.

“We know, we know, we know that none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

 


 
Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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Global airlines brace for Omicron-linked volatility – latest updates

Covid-19 has infected more than 263M people and killed over 5.2M worldwide. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for December 1:

Foreign tourists wait for their flight at the Bangkok's International Suvarnabhumi Airport as Thailand bans entry from eight African countries, Bangkok, Thailand, on November 29. 2021.
Foreign tourists wait for their flight at the Bangkok's International Suvarnabhumi Airport as Thailand bans entry from eight African countries, Bangkok, Thailand, on November 29. 2021. (Reuters)

Concerns growing about pause in bookings, business travel delay

Airlines are bracing for a fresh round of volatility due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 that could force them to adjust schedules and destinations at short notice and to rely more on domestic markets where possible, analysts have said.

Many travellers have already booked trips for the Christmas period, a peak season for airlines, but there are growing industry concerns over a pause in future bookings and further delays to the already slow recovery in business travel.

Fitch Ratings said it had lowered its global passenger traffic forecasts for 2021 and 2022, with the emergence of new variants like Omicron highlighting the likelihood that conditions would remain volatile for airlines.

"It feels a little bit like we are back to where we were a year ago and that's not a great prospect for the industry and beyond," Deidre Fulton, a partner at consultancy MIDAS Aviation, said at an industry webinar on Wednesday.

Omicron's impact will vary by country and region due to the diverse nature of global airlines as well as their business models.

"In the past year, each new variant has brought a decline in bookings, but then an increase once the surge dissipates. We expect the same pattern to emerge," said Helane Becker, an analyst at Cowen and Co.

Travel booking website Kayak said international travel searches from the United States were down only 5 percent on Sunday - a stark contrast to a 26 percent fall in searches from Britain, which had tightened testing requirements for arrivals.

US CDC moving to tighten international testing rules

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said it is working to impose stricter Covid-19 testing rules for air travelers entering the United States amid concerns about a new variant.

The CDC confirmed in a statement it is working to revise its current Global Testing Order "for travel as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States."

South Korea reports daily record of over 5,000 new infections

South Korea reported a new daily record of 5,123 new coronavirus cases, as the country battles to contain a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms and stave off the Omicron variant, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency has said.

The government on Monday shelved plans to further relax Covid-19 curbs due to the strain on its healthcare system from rising hospitalisations and deaths as well as the threat posed by the new variant.

Hospitals were treating a record number of 723 patients with severe Covid that require ICU beds, as the authorities scrambled to secure more. The severe cases have seen a steep rise compared to just under 400 in early November.

Over 84 percent of the severely ill Covid patients were aged 60 and above. Experts had pointed to waning antibody levels from the vaccines and urged the elderly to get booster shots.

Sydney braces for more Omicron cases but no lockdowns for now

Australian authorities have flagged another probable case of the Omicron variant in Sydney as they braced for more infections after at least two international travellers visited several locations in the city while likely infectious.

Officials in New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, said initial testing "strongly indicates" a man in his 40s, who arrived from southern Africa on Nov. 25, had been infected with the Omicron variant and had spent time in the community.

"We believe it is likely it will be confirmed later this afternoon as a definite Omicron case," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters, but he ruled out lockdowns to contain the newly identified variant.

"I feel like it's time for a change in approach. We don't know how many more variants of this virus are going to come," Hazzard said.

Sydney, Australia's largest city, came out of nearly four months of lockdown in early October to contain a Delta outbreak and has been gradually easing curbs after higher vaccinations.

Hong Kong bans non-residents from three more countries over Omicron

Hong Kong will ban non-residents from entering the city from Japan, Portugal and Sweden from Friday, adding to a fast-expanding list of countries facing travel restrictions due to concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Non-Hong Kong residents who have been in the three countries in the past 21 days will not be allowed to enter the global financial hub. Residents can only board flights if fully vaccinated and will have to undergo 21-days of quarantine in a hotel at their own cost.

The government's announcement adds to a growing list of countries facing similar restrictions. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies
 
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South Africa virology expert: Omicron could 'outcompete' Delta

 

Scientists should know within four weeks to what extent Omicron can evade the immunity generated by vaccines or prior infection, says Adrian Puren of South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Discovery of Omicron has caused global alarm, with countries limiting travel from southern Africa.
Discovery of Omicron has caused global alarm, with countries limiting travel from southern Africa. (Reuters)

Omicron coronavirus variant detected in southern Africa could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious Delta variant, the director of South Africa's communicable disease institute has said.

"We thought what will outcompete Delta? That has always been the question, what would outcompete Delta in terms of transmissibility at least," said Adrian Puren, the acting executive director of South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). 

The discovery of Omicron has caused global alarm, with countries limiting travel from southern Africa for fear it could spread quickly even in vaccinated populations and the World Health Organization saying it carries a high risk of infection.


'Cautious, but not jumping to conclusions'

If Omicron proves even more transmissible than the Delta variant, it could lead to a sharp spike in infections that could put pressure on hospitals.

Puren said scientists should know within four weeks to what extent Omicron can evade the immunity generated by vaccines or prior infection, and whether it leads to worse clinical symptoms than other variants.

Anecdotal accounts by doctors who have treated South African Covid-19 patients say Omicron appears to be producing mild symptoms, including a dry cough, fever and night sweats, but experts have cautioned against drawing firm conclusions.

Puren said it was too early to say whether Omicron was displacing Delta in South Africa..

'Not yet to be blamed'

Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist at the NICD, said it looked like infections were rising throughout the country… But cautioned against linking that with Omicron just yet.

"In fact some of those admissions might have started before the emergence of Omicron. We are also seeing that there was an increase in influenza cases in South Africa just in the last month or so, and so we need to be really careful to look at the other respiratory infections," Gottberg said.

Leaders in southern Africa have criticised swift travel restrictions by the United States and other nations as unfair and crippling to their tourism and other sectors.

South Africa has reported close to 3 million infections during the pandemic and over 89,000 deaths –  the most on the African continent.

Source: Reuters 


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Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Perversion of justice: US federal informants committed over 22,000 crimes

 

US federal agencies paid $548 million to informants working for the FBI, DEA and ATF in recent years.

A new report offers a window into how extensive the US government’s use of paid informants is, and how many crimes taxpayer-funded informants were authorised to commit.

According to government audits, US federal agencies paid $548 million to informants working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Records compiled from reviewing federal reports show there were at least 22,800 crimes authorised by federal informants between 2011-2014.

The Inspector General (IG) at the Justice Department reported the findings.

The FBI paid $294 million (2012-2018), an average of $42 million annually, with “long term” informants comprising 20 percent of its intelligence relationships.

The DEA shelled out $237 million (2011-2015) and had over 18,000 active informants assigned to its domestic offices, with 9,000 of them on the federal agency’s payroll for services provided.

The ATF funneled $17.2 million (2012-2015) to 1,855 informants that were paid $4.3 million annually.

High-earning informants included an airline employee who received over $600,000 in less than four years, while a parcel employee received excess of $1 million in five years.

“During this audit, we found that, between FYs 2011 and 2015, the DEA actually used at least 33 Amtrak employees and eight TSA employees as sources, paying the Amtrak employees over $1.5 million and the TSA employees over $94,000,” said the IG.

One Amtrak source was paid $962,615 between 2010 and 2015 to be a confidential source, something the IG referred to as “a substantial waste of government funds,” and that the information provided “could have been obtained by DEA at no cost through a joint task force with the Amtrak Police.”

Two recent examples of where the FBI employed confidential sources were mentioned in the report: the Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot case and the January 6 US Capitol riot.

Twelve informants were involved in a conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer, and it was reported some of them played a much larger role and “had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception” to the extent to which the question was raised as to “whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.”

Meanwhile in the 2021 Capitol case, it was reported at least two informants were embedded with the crowd and were in contact with their FBI handlers on the day of the riot.

A recent testimony in Congress saw Rep Thomas Massie, a republican from Kentucky, play a video of a man inciting pro-Trump election protestors to breach the Capitol on January 6 to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

 

Unclassified government reports procured by Gizmodo earlier this year found that over 9,600 crimes were committed by the FBI during the first two years of Donald Trump's presidency (2017-2018) alone.

The FBI relies heavily on the recruitment and operation of human sources across its investigatory purview, including counterintelligence activities conducted with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and military.

The identities of informants, many of whom possess criminal histories, are tightly held secrets. As a result, negotiations around their cooperation – and any financial compensation they may receive – take place off the record.

The FBI’s post-9/11 surveillance program in Muslim communities across the country has been widely reported – having recruited over 15,000 informants to source information such as immigration, criminal, or financial problems that could be used as leverage to recruit other informants.

These informants led many hundreds of Muslims into FBI counterterrorism sting operations, in which undercover agents were involved in supposed terror plots, in many instances providing the weapons, money and logistical support in the process.

Source: TRT World
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Countries announce curbs for travellers as Omicron spreads – latest updates

 

Covid-19 has infected more than 262M people and killed over 5.2M worldwide. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for November 30:

An arriving traveller is greeted by a loved one at the international terminal at Sydney Airport, as countries react to Omicron variant, in Sydney, Australia, on November 30, 2021.
An arriving traveller is greeted by a loved one at the international terminal at Sydney Airport, as countries react to Omicron variant, in Sydney, Australia, on November 30, 2021. (Reuters)

Ecuador announces restrictions for travellers

Ecuador will impose entry restrictions on travelers flying from or via a number of African countries and will request vaccine certificates from those arriving from other countries, President Guillermo Lasso has said, citing the new Omicron strain of coronavirus.

Anyone who has traveled from or through South Africa, Botswana, Egypt, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, and Namibia will not be allowed to enter the country, Ecuador's government said. 

Hong Kong bans non-resident arrivals from 13 more countries 

Hong Kong has banned non-residents from entering the city from four African countries and plans to expand that to travellers who have been to Australia, Canada, Israel, and six European countries in the past 21 days due to fears over Omicron.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday the Omicron coronavirus variant carried a very high risk of infection surges, and countries around the world have tightened travel restrictions.

In a statement late on Monday, the Hong Kong government said non-residents from Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia would not be allowed to enter the global financial hub as of November 30.

Currencies stabilise as worst Omicron fears recede

The dollar hovered above the one-week low against major peers it hit last week, as fears eased that the new Omicron coronavirus variant would derail the U.S. recovery and delay Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

The safe-haven yen stabilised some half a percent off its strongest level since Nov. 11, reached on Monday. The euro meandered about a third of a percent below Monday's one-week high.

The risk-sensitive Australian dollar drifted about 0.4 percent from a three-month low.

Traders took comfort from remarks by President Joe Biden that the United States would not reinstate lockdowns, as well as a South African doctor's comments that the new strain causes milder symptoms.

Australia national cabinet to meet amid Omicron worries

Australia's national cabinet will meet on Tuesday to review measures aimed at limiting the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant after officials paused a further easing of border restrictions by two weeks.

Australia on Monday delayed the reopening of its international borders, less than 36 hours before international students and skilled migrants were due to be allowed to re-enter the country.

"We're doing this out of an abundance of caution but our overwhelming view is that whilst (Omicron) is an emerging variant, it is a manageable variant," Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told a media conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies
 
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Pentagon orders new probe into US air strike that killed civilians in Syria

 

The decision came after a New York Times investigation found that the US military tried to hide the 2019 Syria strike, which killed at least 70 civilians, including women and children.

The air strike is one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the US' war against Daesh.
The air strike is one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the US' war against Daesh. (Reuters)

The Pentagon has launched a fresh probe into a 2019 air strike that killed civilians in Syria, two weeks after a New York Times investigation claimed the US military concealed dozens of non-combatants' deaths.

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin instructed Army General Michael Garrett to "review the reports of the investigation already conducted" and "conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.

Garrett's three-month review will assess "civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war, record keeping and reporting procedures," he added.

It will also probe whether measures taken after the earlier investigation were effectively implemented, if "accountability measures" should be taken and if "procedures or processes should be altered."


'One of the largest civilian casualty incidents'

According to a Times investigation published mid-November, a US special force operating in Syria bombed a group of civilians three times on March 18, 2019.

The attack near the Daesh bastion of Baghouz, killed at least 70 people, mainly women and children.

The Times report says a US legal officer "flagged the strike as a possible war crime" but that "at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike."

The Times found the strike "was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents" during the battle against Daesh, but was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.

"The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitised and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified," the report said.

Adding findings of a Pentagon probe were "stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike."

A statement released by the Pentagon after the report said the initial investigation into the incident found the strikes were "self-defense," "proportional".

This report by the US Army Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, also stated "appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians."

 


Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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Myanmar junta court postpones verdict in Suu Kyi incitement trial

 

A court in Myanmar delays its verdict in the trial of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to allow testimony from an additional witness, a senior member of her political party.

Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces trials on a series of charges, including incitement, violating coronavirus restrictions, and corruption, that could send her to prison for dozens of years if convicted.
Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces trials on a series of charges, including incitement, violating coronavirus restrictions, and corruption, that could send her to prison for dozens of years if convicted. (Reuters Archive)

A Myanmar junta court has postponed giving a verdict in the incitement trial of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The court adjourned the verdict "until December 6," to allow testimony from an additional witness, Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, according to a legal official on Tuesday.

The legal official spoke on condition of anonymity because the government has restricted the release of information about the trial. 

The court was to deliver a verdict on Tuesday on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions against Suu Kyi, who has rejected the charges.

The Nobel laureate faces three years in prison if found guilty of incitement against the military, as well as a catalogue of other charges that could see her jailed for decades.

Journalists have been barred from proceedings in the special court in the military-built capital Naypyidaw and Suu Kyi's lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media.


Harsh sentences

The 76-year-old Suu Kyi has been detained since the generals ousted her government in the early hours of February 1, ending Myanmar's brief democratic interlude.

In recent weeks, the trials of other ranking members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy have wrapped up, with the junta doling out harsh sentences.

A former chief minister was sentenced to 75 years in jail earlier this month, while a close Suu Kyi aide was jailed for 20.

The cases are widely seen as contrived to discredit Suu Kyi and keep her from running in the next election.

Her party won a landslide victory in last November’s general election. The army, whose allied party lost many seats, claimed there was massive voting fraud, but independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities.

The constitution bars anyone sentenced to prison from holding high office or becoming a lawmaker.


 Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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Watch | 'Kabul Embassy Must Reopen Immediately': Hamid Ansari

 

India’s former Vice-President and a former Ambassador to Afghanistan suggested that it was a mistake for the Indian government to shut the embassy in Afghanistan.

Karan Thapar

India’s former Vice-President and a former Ambassador to Afghanistan has clearly suggested that it was a mistake for the Indian government to shut the embassy in Afghanistan in August – although he doesn’t use that precise word – unless, of course, there was a clear warning of imminent danger.

However, Ansari adds, such a warning has not been shared with the public and it does, therefore, seem as if a wrong or questionable judgement call was made when the embassy was shut.

Ansari has also said that the government should immediately re-open the embassy and that this would be in the best interest of India as well as Afghanistan. All of this was said in the last five minutes of the interview.


 

Listen to this article:

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India’s former Vice-President and a former Ambassador to Afghanistan has clearly suggested that it was a mistake for the Indian government to shut the embassy in Afghanistan in August – although he doesn’t use that precise word – unless, of course, there was a clear warning of imminent danger.

However, Ansari adds, such a warning has not been shared with the public and it does, therefore, seem as if a wrong or questionable judgement call was made when the embassy was shut.

Ansari has also said that the government should immediately re-open the embassy and that this would be in the best interest of India as well as Afghanistan. All of this was said in the last five minutes of the interview.



In a 25-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Ansari spoke at length about his proposal that neutrality or neutralism would be the best policy for Afghanistan. He pointed out that this was Afghan policy from the time of King Nadir Shah in 1931 right up till the take-over by the Mujahideen in 1990-91. During the World War II, the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars and the Kargil war, Afghanistan attempted to maintain a posture of neutrality.

Ansari pointed out this shows neutrality has served Afghanistan well in the recent past.

The reason Ansari advocates neutrality is because it would be the best way of tackling the concerns of the countries immediately surrounding Afghanistan and also the best way of reassuring the wider world and, particularly the P5, that Afghanistan will not get involved or dragged into international politics as well as the politics of the region.

Ansari believes that this declaration of neutrality would facilitate international aid and assistance, which Afghanistan badly needs. He described the condition of the Afghan people as “dire”. The BBC has reported that perhaps 50% of the country is short of food and up to 2 million children are already suffering from severe malnutrition. The UN has said 1 million children could die this winter.

Ansari said neutrality could also, at a later stage, facilitate the international recognition that the Taliban crave, although that may not happen immediately.

In other words, neutrality is the starting point to facilitate both international aid and, later, international recognition.

The key stumbling block is whether neutrality could sort out the long standing Afghanistan-Pakistan dispute over the Durand Line. Ansari says the best course for the Taliban and Afghanistan is to accept the advice of a former Pakistani foreign secretary, Riaz Mohammad Khan, and treat the Durand Line as a functional border – even though they don’t accept it as a legal border – whilst Pakistan would continue to regard it both as the historical and legal border. This ‘compromise’ by the Taliban would be in Afghanistan’s best interests.

However, to be truly meaningful and effective, Ansari says there are certain “essential ingredients of neutralisation” that have to be fulfilled. These are, first, a constitutional declaration by Afghanistan, second, legally binding declarations by all its neighbours, third, a UN Security Council declaration refraining from any form of power politics in Afghanistan and, finally, a UN General Assembly resolution recognising Afghanistan as a neutral state.

Ansari accepts that neutrality would still leave unresolved the concerns the West has about Taliban treatment of women, Afghan minorities and it’s religious bigotry. Here, he cited the example of Arab countries which, 20-30 years ago, had similar internal problems which the West did not like but learnt to accept and live with. Over time, many of those Arab countries have changed or, at least, ameliorated their attitudes.

The same policy should be, he said, accorded to Afghanistan.

Watch the full interview here

SOURCE ; THE WIRE

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