WHO warns against blanket travel bans over omicron coronavirus variant

Travelers wear masks at LaGuardia International Airport on November 30, 2021 in New York, New York as concern grows worldwide over Omicron, the newest Covid-19 variant. (AFP)
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Updated 01 December 2021

WHO warns against blanket travel bans over omicron coronavirus variant

  • ‘Blanket travel bans … place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods’
  • Britain’s health secretary Sajid Javid meanwhile urges people to book a COVID-19 booster shot

GENEVA: Countries should apply “an evidence-informed and risk-based approach” with any travel measures related to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, including possible screening or quarantine of international passengers, but blanket bans do not prevent its spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

The WHO, in its latest guidance to authorities and travellers, said that people over 60 years of age and those with underlying health conditions should be advised to postpone travel as they are at higher risk of disease and death.

This was in line with its advice regarding over 60s since December 2020, regardless of a traveller’s vaccination status, and did not represent any change in guidance, a WHO spokesperson said.

First reported in southern Africa a week ago, the variant has brought global alarm, led to travel bans, and highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

National authorities in countries of departure, transit and arrival may apply a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk so as to delay or reduce importation or exportation of the omicron variant, the WHO said on Tuesday.

“Measures may include screening of passengers prior to travel and/or upon arrival, and use of SARS-COV-2 testing or quarantine of international travellers after thorough risk assessment,” it said.

All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited and applied with respect to travellers’ rights, it said.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” it said.

Some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at potentially delaying import of omicron as of Nov. 28, it added.

Britain’s health Secretary Sajid Javid meanwhile urged people to book a COVID-19 booster shot as he said there were 22 confirmed cases of the omicron virus variant in the country.

Javid said the government believed a booster campaign would help protect against severe disease from omicron, even if it turns out that vaccines are not as effective against the variant as previous strains of the disease.

He said he hoped to know more about omicron within two weeks, as scientists work to understand what impact the new variant will have on transmissibility and serious disease.

“At this point in time the case numbers are very low,” Javid told Sky News. “For the UK we’ve got 22 confirmed cases at the moment and that will go up, it will certainly go up.”

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France charges 18-yr-old over Daesh attack plot: judicial source

Updated 9 sec ago

France charges 18-yr-old over Daesh attack plot: judicial source

PARIS: French authorities have charged an 18-year-old man on suspicion of planning an imminent terror attack with a knife in the name of Daesh militants, a judicial source said on Wednesday.
Initial investigations indicated that he planned to carry out a terror attack “in the name of Daesh, to which he had pledged allegiance,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
The source added that the man had been detained in the Drome region of southeast France and charged in Paris.
The man, from a Muslim family, had adopted extremist views and was considered a threat, sparking France’s anti-terror prosecutors office (PNAT) to open an investigation on May 19, a source close to the case said.
Police arrested him on Friday and a video of him swearing allegiance to Daesh was found in his possession.
The source did not say whom he was planning to target in the attack or in which location.
France saw a wave of militant attacks from 2015 that left hundreds dead and pushed the country to its highest level of security alert.
There has been no repeat of a mass atrocity in the last years, but there have been several deadly attacks carried out by lone individuals.

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

Updated 25 May 2022

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

  • Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians
  • The report by senior official Sue Gray gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings

LONDON: A “humbled” Boris Johnson said he took full responsibility but would not quit after a damning official report on Wednesday detailed a series of illegal lockdown parties at the British leader’s Downing Street office.
Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians and some in his own party over the alcohol-fueled gatherings, after it was revealed that he and officials had broken COVID-19 rules that all but banned people from socialising outside their households.
“I ... am humbled and I have learned a lesson,” Prime Minister Johnson told parliament, saying he would not quit over the scandal.
His foreign minister Liz Truss, seen as a possible successor, said she backed him “100 percent” after his apology.
The report by senior official Sue Gray did not specifically blame Johnson, but gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings.
He attended some, including a party to celebrate his 56th birthday on June 19, 2020 that he was fined over but which Gray said he was unaware of in advance.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report said. “The senior leadership ...must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Johnson, who commissioned the report after revelations of boozy Downing Street events, said he was appalled by some of the behavior it had uncovered.
Gray’s interim findings were published in January, but details were withheld until the end of a police inquiry that concluded last week with 126 fines handed out.

DISMAYING BEHAVIOUR AT ‘HEART OF GOVERNMENT’
Her full report included emails and messages that showed many gatherings were planned in advance, with discussions on who would bring alcohol — drinks that “we seem to have got away with,” the then head of Johnson’s Downing Street office, Martin Reynolds, said in one message.
There were warnings from another official that people should not be “waving bottles of wine” before a gathering that coincided with a televised news conference when ministers told the public to follow the COVID rules.
At one June 2020 event, Gray said “excessive alcohol consumption” led to one person being sick and a fight between two others.
At another, the night before the April 2021 funeral for Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, individuals partied into the early hours and damaged a swing.
“Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray said. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behavior in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
She cited multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff who had to remove red wine from walls after one event.
For months, evidence of the parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologize, change his office team and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was time for Johnson to quit, saying the report laid bare that the government believed that it was one rule for them and another for everyone else.
“You cannot be a lawmaker and a law-breaker,” Starmer — himself under police investigation for breaking COVID rules, told parliament. He has said he’ll resign if fined.
Johnson’s immediate fate lies in the hands of his Conservative lawmakers who can call for a leadership challenge.
Many had said they would wait for Gray’s full report before deciding whether to demand Johnson should go.
“Are you willing day in and day out to defend his behavior publicly?” Tobias Ellwood, a long-time critic of Johnson, implored of his parliamentary colleagues.
Others felt the report was less damning than it could have been. “This is all so banal,” one Conservative said on condition of anonymity.
Johnson had initially denied there had been parties or rule-breaking at Downing Street, and some lawmakers say his position is untenable if he is found to have lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by the Committee of Privileges.
By way of apology for his earlier denials, said he wanted to “correct for the record” that no rules were broken. “Clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left,” Johnson told parliament.


Indian court orders life in jail for top Kashmiri separatist

Updated 25 May 2022

Indian court orders life in jail for top Kashmiri separatist

  • Police fired tear gas to disperse stone-pelting protesters outside Malik's residence in Srinagar 
  • Malik's wife Mushaal Hussein Mullick said the sentencing was illegitimate

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: An Indian court on Wednesday ordered life in jail for Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik for funding “terrorist” activities and other charges, a judge said, prompting street protests outside the politician’s residence. 

Malik, head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), earlier told a special court designated for the National Investigation Agency that he had been following Gandhian principles and non-violent politics in Kashmir after giving up arms in the 1990s. 

Mainly Hindu India has been fighting an armed militancy in Kashmir, also claimed by Pakistan, for decades. 

“Life imprisonment sentence to the convict, Yasin Malik,” Special Judge Parveen Singh said in the court in New Delhi. 

Malik’s wife Mushaal Hussein Mullick said the sentencing was illegitimate. 

“Verdict in minutes by Indian kangaroo court,” she wrote on Twitter. “The iconic leader will never surrender.” 

In Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, police fired tear gas and pellets to disperse stone-pelting protesters outside Malik’s residence. 

Malik was convicted last week. 


Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms

Updated 25 May 2022

Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms

  • “We have only one choice, and this is to receive modern NATO style weaponry," Radina told Reuters
  • Ukraine needs longer range arms after mainly receiving anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons at the start of the war

DAVOS, Switzerland: Western countries such as Germany must overcome reluctance to supply Ukraine with modern weapons as Kyiv risks running out of stocks in the war with Russia, lawmaker Anastasia Radina said.
“We have only one choice, and this is to receive modern NATO style weaponry because we cannot win the war with the Soviet style weaponry that we have,” Radina told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
She said stocks of Soviet-built weapons were limited around the world, and Moscow had much more of these arms than Kyiv.
“What they are doing is waiting for us to run out of weapons or (the) collective West to be less united and more preoccupied ... with their own problems,” Radina said in an interview on Tuesday.
Ukraine needs longer range arms after mainly receiving anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons at the start of the war, Radina said, adding that Kyiv has also asked for ground-based air defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities from attacks.
The German government has been considering supplying a surface-to-air defense system built by Diehl to Ukraine, according to a security source, but a deal has not yet been announced.
Radina said a system like this could help protect not only Kyiv, but also other cities like Kharkiv, Zaporizhya, Mykolaiv and Odesa: “These are cities that need proper air defense systems even more than Kyiv.”
The German government must understand that Ukraine is running out of time, the lawmaker said.
“This .. discussion about tanks is just humiliating. This poses a question with whom Germany really sides,” Radina said in reference to Gepard anti-aircraft tanks that Germany pledged a month ago but Berlin said will be delivered in July.
“It is time Germany proves in action with whom it stands. And proving in action means: Stop supplying Russia with money to basically be able to buy weapons and kill Ukrainian civilians and help Ukraine with proper ammunition.”


Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine

Updated 25 May 2022

Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine

  • The decree marks a further step towards "Russification" of the two regions
  • Putin's move extends a scheme available to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk

LONDON: President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday simplifying the process for residents of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.
The decree marks a further step toward “Russification” of the two regions, where Moscow’s war in Ukraine has enabled it to establish a continuous land bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Putin’s move extends a scheme available to residents of areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Moscow has issued around 800,000 passports since 2019.
Russia claimed full control of the Kherson region, north of Crimea, in mid-March, and holds parts of Zaporizhzhia region to the north-east.
In Kherson, the Ukrainian governor has been ousted and the military-civilian administration said earlier this month that it planned to ask Putin to incorporate it into Russia by the end of 2022. Ukraine has pledged to recapture all of its seized territory.