UK PM Johnson says at least one dead with omicron

People queue at a vaccination centre in London, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 13 December 2021

UK PM Johnson says at least one dead with omicron

  • After COVID-19 was first detected in China in late 2019, he faced criticism for initially resisting lockdown

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said at least one person infected with omicron had died, as the country began an ambitious booster programme against the variant.
“Sadly, at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with omicron,” Johnson, who on Sunday warned of a “tidal wave” of infection from the mutation, told reporters.
Britain also said on Monday that the omicron coronavirus variant was spreading at a “phenomenal rate” and now accounted for about 40 percent of infections in London, so people should get a booster shot because the double-vaccinated are still vulnerable.
Since the first omicron cases were detected on Nov. 27 in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed tougher restrictions and told the nation on Sunday that a “tidal wave” of omicron was coming.
Britain says that unless action is taken there could be a million people infected with omicron by the end of the month.
“It’s spreading at a phenomenal rate, something that we’ve never seen before, it’s doubling every two to three days in infections,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.
“That means we’re facing a tidal wave of infection, we’re once again in a race between the vaccine and the virus.”
The pound fell 0.4 percent to $1.3225, while it was broadly steady against the euro at 85.29 pence.
Johnson, who is grappling with a rebellion in his party over measures to curb omicron and an outcry over alleged parties at his Downing Street office during last year’s lockdowns, said people should rush to get booster vaccines to protect “our freedoms and our way of life.”
After COVID-19 was first detected in China in late 2019, he faced criticism for initially resisting lockdown.
He has also been criticized for overseeing mistakes in transferring patients into care homes, and for building a costly test-and-trace system that failed to stop a deadly second wave.
Johnson has repeatedly said that while mistakes were made, the government was making decisions at pace in the biggest public health crisis for generations and that his government was swift to roll out vaccines.
Across the world, COVID has killed 5.3 million people, wiped out trillions of dollars in economic output and turned normal life upside down for many. In the United Kingdom, more than 146,000 people have died from COVID.
As Johnson tries to stem the spread of omicron, he faces growing anger from libertarians in his party over stiffer COVID rules and sinking poll ratings.
He has faced criticism over his handling of a sleaze scandal, the awarding of lucrative COVID contracts, the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat and a claim he intervened to ensure pets were evacuated from Kabul during the chaotic Western withdrawal in August.
An Ipsos MORI survey for The London Evening Standard newspaper showed opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer’s ranking was 13 percentage points ahead of Johnson, the first time a Labour leader had been viewed as a more capable prime minister since 2008.
It also echoed other polls by showing Labour up three points on 39 percent ahead of Johnson’s Conservatives, who were down one point since the last survey in November on 35 percent.
Javid said although there had been no deaths confirmed in England and just 10 people hospitalized with the omicron variant, its swift spread meant that unless the government acted the health service could be overwhelmed.
“Two doses are not enough, but three doses still provide excellent protection against symptomatic infection,” Javid said.
The government wants to offer all adults a booster by New Year, an ambitious target given the Christmas holiday and that vaccinating 1 million people per day is around double the current 530,000 per day.


Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Updated 15 August 2022

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

  • The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch court handling the murder trial of four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 said on Monday it would hand down its verdict on Nov. 17.
Prosecutors say the one Ukrainian and three Russian defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at the plane on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board were killed.
The prosecution is seeking life terms for all suspects.
Lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, the only defendant who has chosen to participate in the proceedings through counsel, have argued that the trial was unfair and prosecutors did not properly examine alternative theories about the cause of the crash or the involvement of Pulatov.
The other suspects, named as Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, are being tried in absentia. Under Dutch law Pulatov, while he is also at large, is not considered to be tried in absentia because he is represented through lawyers he has instructed.
The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region by what international investigators say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The eastern region has also become a key focus of Russia’s nearly six-month-old war in Ukraine.
Most of the victims on board MH17 were Dutch nationals. The Dutch government holds Russia responsible for the crash. Authorities in Moscow deny any involvement.
The MH17 case has seriously strained the Netherlands’ diplomatic relations with Moscow, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24.


3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

Updated 15 August 2022

3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

GURNEE, Illinois:Three people were injured in a shooting in the parking lot of an amusement park north of Chicago that sent visitors scrambling for safety, authorities said.
Officers responded about 7:50 p.m. Sunday after 911 calls reporting shots fired at Six Flags Great America, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Chicago, the Gurnee Police Department said.
“The shooting ... was not a random act, and appeared to be a targeted incident that occurred outside the park,” police said in statement posted to Facebook.
According to an initial investigation, police said a white sedan entered the parking lot and drove toward the park’s front entrance. People got out of the car and shot at another person in the parking lot before driving away, police said.
Additional detail about the suspects, including the number of people who fired shots, wasn’t immediately released. Police were investigating.
A 17-year-old boy from Aurora, Illinois, had a thigh wound and a 19-year-old woman from Appleton, Wisconsin, had a leg wound, police said. They were taken to a hospital and their wounds were described as non-life-threatening. A third victim had a shoulder injury and declined to be taken to a hospital.
In a statement, Six Flags Great America said park security responded immediately along with Gurnee officers.
WGN News in Chicago spoke with Laurie Walker and her daughter, Grace, who were inside the park when the shooting occurred. Walker said they were waiting in line for an attraction around 7:50 p.m. when she noticed people running.
“There is an active shooter, get down, get down,” Walker said she heard someone shouting. “We didn’t know what was going on, so we get down.”
Walker and her daughter climbed two fences to get where she could call her husband. Walker told WGN she was able to leave the park a short while later.
Gurnee is in Lake County, about 5 miles south of the Wisconsin border. It’s about 20 miles north of Highland Park, where seven people died in a mass shooting during a July Fourth parade.


Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more corruption charges

Updated 15 August 2022

Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more corruption charges

BANGKOK: A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on more corruption charges on Monday and sentenced her to an additional six years in prison, a legal official said.

The trial was held behind closed doors, with no access for media or the public, and her lawyers were forbidden by a gag order from revealing information about the proceedings.

In the four corruption cases decided Monday, Suu Kyi was alleged to have abused her position to rent public land at below market prices and to have built a residence with donations meant for charitable purposes. She received sentences of three years for each of the four counts, but the sentences for three of them will be served concurrently, giving her a total of six more years in prison.

She denied all the charges, and her lawyers are expected to appeal.

She already had been sentenced to 11 years in prison on sedition, corruption and other charges at earlier trials after the military ousted her elected government and detained her in February 2021.

Analysts say the numerous charges against her and her allies are an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power while eliminating her from politics before the military holds an election it has promised for next year.


‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

Updated 15 August 2022

‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

  • Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power
  • For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships

KABUL: Taliban fighters chanted victory slogans next to the US embassy in Kabul on Monday as they marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.
Exactly a year ago, the hard-line Islamists captured Kabul after a nationwide lightning offensive against government forces just as US-led troops were ending two decades of intervention in a conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives.
“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered the capital on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“It’s the day of victory and happiness for the Afghan Muslims and people. It is the day of conquest and victory of the white flag,” government spokesman Bilal Karimi said on Twitter.
The chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.
Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway — aired on news bulletins around the world.
Authorities have so far not announced any official celebration to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would have a special program later on Monday to mark the event.
Many Taliban fighters gathered in Kabul’s central Massoud Square, where they displayed the regime’s white banners and performed a traditional dance, some holding weapons and others taking pictures on their mobile phones.
“We all are happy that we are celebrating our independence in front of the US embassy,” Aminullah Sufi Omar said.
Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power — even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.
“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.
For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships — especially for women.
Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, including their faces, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.
“Everything has been snatched from us, they have even entered our personal space,” she added.
Taliban fighters on Saturday dispersed a rare women’s rights rally by firing gun shots into the air and beating some protesters.
“Our call for justice was silenced with gunfire, but today we are pleading from inside our home,” Munisa Mubariz said on Monday.
She was among about 30 women who gathered at an undisclosed location to stage an indoor protest.
The women, who mostly had their faces uncovered, posted photographs online of themselves holding banners, including one that read: “Afghanistan’s history is tarnished with the closure of girls’ schools.”
While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.
“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power center of the Taliban.
The country is in economic crisis, with its overseas assets frozen by Washington and aid curtailed in order to keep funds out of the Taliban’s hands.
No country has officially recognized the new government.
“All those powers who came here have lost here, but today we want good relations with everybody,” said fighter Hazi Mubariz.
For Taliban fighters the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.
“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan,” said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.


Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

Updated 15 August 2022

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

  • Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028

MANILA: About 2.3 million people in the Philippines were pushed into poverty between 2018 and 2021, largely due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the statistics agency said on Monday.
The number of people living in poverty in 2021 rose to a total of almost 20 million or 18.1 percent of the population from 16.7 percent in 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said, overshooting the government’s target of 15.5 percent-17.5 percent.
Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028 — a target that remains achievable despite soaring inflation, according to Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
He said the government’s strategy will focus on fully reopening the economy, investing in human capital and social protection, and transforming production sectors to generate more and quality jobs and competitive products.
“We can reduce poverty incidence by 5 percentage points at midterm, and another 4 percentage points by 2028,” Balisacan told a media briefing.
The PSA — which defines poverty as including those Filipinos whose per capita income cannot sufficiently meet individual basic food and non-food needs — releases these statistics every three years.
Balisacan said that before the pandemic, in 2018, the country had achieved its goal of lifting 6 million Filipinos out of poverty, four years ahead of a 2022 target.
But COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and a long-running issue of poor households having limited access to regular and productive jobs had plunged many Filipinos back into difficulty, he said.