Omicron detected in 89 countries, COVID-19 cases doubling fast
The World Health Organization said the Omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad. Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the Delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake Delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, the UN health agency said. It noted that Omicron is spreading rapidly even in countries with high vaccination rates or where a significant proportion of the population has recovered from COVID-19 levels.
The Netherlands in lockdown… again!
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced the re-introduction of the national lockdown as of today Sunday for the Christmas holidays, to cope with the growth of the pandemic. The lockdown is “inevitable due to the fifth wave that is approaching due to Omicron”, he stressed, explaining that the COVID variant is “spreading faster than we feared”. And intervention is necessary “to prevent the worst”. Non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and other public places will close, at least until January 14, as will schools, he said.
UK evaluates post-Christmas lockdown
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is evaluating a number of expert options to deal with the COVIDepidemic. These options range from “a series of restrictions, to a lockdown” and include a ban on meetings indoors except for work reasons and the limitation of outdoor services for pubs and restaurants, for two weeks after Christmas.
Germany tightens grip on visitors from Britain
Germany has become the latest European country to ban most travellers from Britain. Visitors from the UK will now have to quaratine for two weeks, regardless of their COVID vaccination status. Meanwhile, thousands of people have demonstrated against coronavirus rules in several major German cities including Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe and Freiburg. Pandemic deniers have become increasingly displeased with virus-related regulations.
UK’s Brexit minister resigns
In an other significant blow to the embattled British prime minister, his government’s Brexit miniser has resigned. Lord Frost, who led the UK’s negotiations over the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol, resigned over the “political direction” of the government including the introduction of stricter COVID curbs and a broader discontent with tax rises and the cost of environmental policies.
UN adviser meets Libyan warlord
With doubts growing about whether Libya’s presidential election can go ahead as scheduled next Friday, the special adviser to the UN Secretary-General for Libya, Stephanie Williams, has had talks with controversial candidate Khalifa Haftar. They met in the warlord’s stronghold in Benghazi.
High-stakes Chile election
Today, Chile chooses between far-right and leftist presidential candidates vying for support among an alienated electorate torn between hope and fear in deciding who to vote for, if at all. The country of 19 million people is on edge, fearing renewed mass protests in response to the outcome of the neck-and-neck race between ultra-conservative lawyer Jose Antonio Kast, 55, and former student activist Gabriel Boric, a millennial 20 years his junior.
… and in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is holding its first elections since China imposed sweeping changes on the territory’s political system. Every candidate was vetted for loyalty to Beijing before being allowed to take part. The authorities are said to be concerned that voters would stay away.
75 dead after typhoon in the Philippines
Seventy-five people are known to have died and many others are missing after a devastating storm swept over the Philippines. Super Typhoon Rai crashed into the country’s southeastern islands on Thursday, levelling homes and bringing winds of about 195km/h. The strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year has toppled power poles, uprooted trees and left three million people without electricity.
Found: Missing baby entrusted to the marines at Kabul airport
The missing Afghan baby who disappeared after being placed in the care of a US Marine by his parents at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport during his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer, has been found and will be returned to his family in the United States. Following appeals by his parents, the boy, who is now six months old, was found in the home of a taxi driver in Kabul, who allegedly took care of him until now. Mirza Ali Ahmadi and his wife Suraya were evacuated with their other children aged 17, nine, six and three to the United States.
Italian caught with one million child pornography files
Italian police have arrested a 49-year-old man caught in possession of over one million photographs and videos depicting children in sexual acts with adults. The man, a musician in the coastal city of Ancona, had been collecting the images for some 20 years. A police statement said, “The man kept the files inside various hard disks, optical media and a smartphone, where they were meticulously divided into different folders sorted by type of photo/video and age of the victims.” The musician had given lessons to minors, though there was no evidence of abuse, police said.
Algeria wins FIFA Arab Cup
Scoring two extra-time goals, Algeria took out neighbouring Tunisia in the Arab Cup final as it prepares to defend the Africa Cup of Nations title next month. The goals gave Algeria the last-minute lead, adding the Arab crown to the Africa Cup of Nations title Algeria won in 2019, which it is set to defend in Cameroon next month. Earlier, Qatar beat Egypt 5-4 on penalties to win third place.