COVID-19: New variant Omicron spreads to Europe
The discovery of a new coronavirus variant has sent chills through much of the world as nations raced to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings to weigh the exact risks. The World Health Organisation has named the B.1.1.529 COVID variant “Omicron” (the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet transliterated as ‘o’). In a statement, WHO said preliminary evidence suggested the latest variant carried a “higher risk of re-infection than other variants of concern” as it has a large number of mutations. EU member states have agreed to impose a ban on travel from southern Africa to counter the variant’s spread. The UK, Canada and other countries have imposed similar restrictions. The US said its travel ban will come into effect on Monday. South Africa called the travel bans ‘draconian’ and ‘unjustified’ as medical experts have warned against any overreaction before the variant was better understood. Meanwhile, US pharmaceutical company Moderna has said it would develop a booster shot against the new Omicron variant.
State of emergency in NY against Omicron variant threat
The governor of the state of New York, Kathy Hochul, has declared a state of emergency in response to the new Omicron variant which threatens to reach the United States as well. Hochul also explained that the decision is linked to a number of infections in New York State which has returned to growth at levels never seen since last April.
WTO postpones meeting after variant discovery
The World Trade Organisation became the first major diplomatic casualty of the new coronavirus variant on Friday as it postponed its first ministerial face-to-face meeting in four years due to the deteriorating health situation. Ministers from WTO member-states were due to have gathered next week for a meeting widely seen as a test of the WTO’s relevance. The new variant outbreak led to travel restrictions that would have prevented many ministers from reaching Geneva.
Bus crash kills scores in Mexico
At least 19 people were killed and 20 more injured in San Jose El Guarda, Mexico, after a passenger bus travelling on a highway crashed into a house. According to local media reports, the brakes on the bus, which was heading to a local religious shrine, failed.
Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim dies at 91
Legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionising musical theatre, died on Friday at the age of 91. Sondheim – renowned for musicals including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He won numerous awards during his career including eight Grammy awards, and eight Tony awards, including the special honour of Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. He also picked up one Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was nominated for many more Grammys and Tonys, as well as two Golden Globes.
Italy, Portugal drawn in same World Cup playoff bracket
Italy and Portugal, the current and previous European champions, were drawn into the same World Cup qualifying playoff bracket on Friday, meaning at least one will fail to qualify for next year’s tournament. Italy will first face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semifinal next March, and the winner will play away at either Portugal or Turkey. Also in the 12-team draw, Scotland will face Ukraine at home, and the winner will play at Wales or Austria in the final of their bracket. Russia will host Poland for the right to face Sweden or the Czech Republic in their bracket final. The six playoff semifinals will be played as single-leg games March 24. The three finals are played five days later.
Paris archbishop resigns over love story
Paris archbishop Michel Aupetit has offered his resignation to Pope Francis, following revelations of the weekly Le Point about his alleged love story with a woman in 2012. In the letter to the Pope, which according to Le Figaro arrived yesterday in Rome, Aupetit proposes “to the Pope to resign”. Only the Pontiff can decide whether to accept the resignation or not.
Thailand police warn sexy crispy pancake vendor
A 23-year-old crispy pancake seller who appears in an extremely sexy outfit was summoned by police yesterday for her creative method of attracting customers. Pattaya Mail reports Aranya Apaiso had been selling crispy pancakes with only a single-buttoned sweater exposing her sideboob and exposing some skin. Apaiso, who is also known as Olive, said she was told to maintain a social distance from her customers queueing for her delicious crepes and to dress more discreetly. She added that a local cultural official instructed her to wear a bra.