Suspected Omicron coronavirus case found in Germany

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Frankfurt
FILE PHOTO: People queue outside a vaccination centre as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Frankfurt, Germany, November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

November 27, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) -The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has probably arrived in Germany, officials in the western state of Hesse said on Saturday, after mutations were found in a passenger arriving from South Africa.

“Last night several Omicron-typical mutations were found in a traveller returning from South Africa,” tweeted Kai Klose, social affairs minister in Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, Germany’s biggest hub and one of Europe’s busiest airports.

He added the person was isolating and said anyone who had travelled from South Africa in the last few weeks should limit contacts and get tested.

The city of Frankfurt’s health authority said later it expected the results of a full sequencing on Monday. A routine check last week after a positive test had thrown up the case which showed indications of the new variant, it said.

It started testing all travellers from South Africa and Namibia on arrival at Frankfurt airport when the new variant became known. No tests have so far been positive.

“Our current routine procedures enable us, together with Frankfurt airport, to quickly implement the necessary measures to minimise the risk of spreading,” said Peter Tinnemann, head of the Frankfurt Health Authority.

The new variant has emerged as Germany and many other European countries grapple with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Jens Spahn warned the situation was worse than ever. “We must reduce all contact, we are in a situation that is more serious than we have had before,” he said at a townhall with a group of experts.

Germany recorded 67,125 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said. More than 100,000 people have died with COVID-19.

Most Germans are braced for tighter restrictions as intensive care units, especially in eastern and southern Germany, reach their limits and COVID-19 patients are flown by the air force from hospitals that are overwhelmed.

Only 68.3% of Germany’s population of about 83 million is fully vaccinated, far behind the rates in southern European countries such as Portugal, Spain and even France. Some 10% of the population has received a booster shot, said Spahn.

Immunologist Leif Erik Sander of the Charite hospital in Berlin said current vaccines would probably offer at least some protection against the Omicron variant.

“I’m optimistic we won’t have to start from scratch,” he told the townhall, adding more research was needed.

Germany has said it will classify South Africa as a virus-variant area from Sunday. This stops short of a ban on flights but means airlines can fly only Germans to Germany from South Africa and even those who are vaccinated must spend 14 days in quarantine.

(Reporting by Madeline ChambersEditing by Mark Heinrich and Mark Potter)

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Two cases of Omicron coronavirus variant detected in Britain

People wear protective masks as they walk through the city centre, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manchester
FILE PHOTO: People wear protective masks as they walk through the city centre, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manchester, Britain, June 21, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble

November 27, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) -Two linked cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in Britain connected to travel to southern Africa, health minister Sajid Javid said on Saturday.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Friday, is potentially more contagious than previous variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other coronavirus strains.

“Late last night I was contacted by the UK Health Security Agency. I was informed that they have detected two cases of this new variant, Omicron, in the United Kingdom,” Javid said in a broadcast clip.

Essex County Council later confirmed on Twitter that there was a single case identified in Brentwood in the southeastern region of England. The council said it was linked to a single case from Nottingham in central England involving travel to South Africa.

“We are working with regional and local public health officers who are assessing the situation. All close contacts of these individuals will be followed up and requested to isolate and get tested,” the council said.

The health ministry said two individuals and all members of their households were being re-tested and told to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing was done.

England will also add Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola to its travel “red list” from 0400 GMT on Sunday, meaning British and Irish residents who arrive in the country must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days. Non-residents will be refused entry.

That list already contained Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty will hold a news conference later on Saturday “to set out further measures”, Javid said.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas, additional reporting by Elizabeth PiperEditing by Mark Heinrich, Frances Kerry and Nick Macfie)

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Omicron coronavirus variant detected in UK, concern triggers more travel curbs

FILE PHOTO: South Africa detects new SARS-CoV-2 variant
FILE PHOTO: Digital display boards show cancelled flights to London – Heathrow at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 26, 2021. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham/File Photo

November 27, 2021

(Reuters) -Britain detected two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday, even as Australia and other countries joined nations imposing restrictions on travel from southern Africa in an effort to stop its spread.

Authorities in Germany and the Czech Republic also said they had suspected cases.

The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious https://www.reuters.com/world/how-worried-should-we-be-about-omicron-variant-2021-11-27 than previous variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa and had also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Dutch authorities said that 61 out of around 600 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday had tested positive https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/dutch-find-61-covid-cases-among-south-africa-passengers-looking-new-variant-2021-11-27 for the coronavirus. Health authorities were carrying out further tests to see if those cases involved the new variant.

One passenger who arrived from South Africa on Friday, Dutch photographer Paula Zimmerman, said she tested negative but was anxious for the days to come, having spent hours on a flight that likely had many infected passengers.

“I’ve been told that they expect that a lot more people will test positive after five days. It’s a little scary the idea that you’ve been in a plane with a lot of people who tested positive,” she said.

Financial markets plunged on Friday, especially stocks of airlines and others in the travel sector, as investors worried the variant could cause another surge in the pandemic. Oil prices tumbled by about $10 a barrel.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 2.5%, its worst day since late October 2020, and European stocks had their worst day in 17 months.

It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant’s mutations and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it. Omicron is the fifth variant of concern designated by the WHO.

TRAVEL CURBS

The two linked cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant detected in Britain were connected to travel to southern Africa, health minister Sajid Javid said.

The health ministry said two individuals and all members of their households were being re-tested and told to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing was done.

Britain also said it was expanding its “red list” to put travel curbs on more southern Africa countries, while South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman and Hungary also announced travel restrictions on southern African nations.

Officials in the western German state of Hesse said the Omicron variant has probably arrived in Germany, after mutations were found in a passenger arriving from South Africa. Czech health authorities said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.

Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally, many countries around the world – including the United States, Brazil, Canada and European Union nations – announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa on Friday.

On Saturday, Australia said it would ban non-citizens who have been in nine southern African countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens returning from there.

Japan said it would extend its tightened border controls to three more African countries after imposing curbs on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho on Friday.

South Africa is worried that the curbs will hurt tourism and other sectors of its economy, the foreign ministry said on Saturday, adding the government is engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider.

Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, and some have re-introduced restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.

VACCINATIONS

The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on disparities in how far the world’s population is vaccinated. Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.

Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance that with the WHO co-leads the COVAX initiative to push for equitable distribution of vaccines, said this was essential to ward off the emergence of more coronavirus variants.

“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world’s population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged,” he said in a statement to Reuters.

“We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world’s population, not just the wealthy parts.”

(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart H. Meijer, Costas Pitas, Promit Mukerjee, Stephanie Nebehay, Madeline Chambers, Robert Muller and Reuters bureausWriting by Frances KerryEditing by Alexander Smith and Nick Macfie)

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Dutch test for new variant after finding 61 COVID cases among South Africa passengers

Police guard the streets following Dutch PM Rutte's announcement of new measures to fight a record surge in COVID-19 infections, in The Hague
Police officers stand guard following Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s announcement of new measures to fight a record surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in The Hague, Netherlands, November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

November 27, 2021

By Toby Sterling and Bart H. Meijer

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Dutch health authorities said on Saturday they had detected 61 COVID-19 cases among people who flew from South Africa on Friday and were now doing further tests to see whether any are infected with the new Omicron variant.

The cases were discovered among around 600 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on two flights on Friday before the Dutch government halted air traffic from southern Africa due to concerns over the variant.

Dutch health authorities said on Saturday they would also seek to contact travellers who had arrived from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe since Monday and urge them to take a test as soon as possible.

The passengers from Friday’s flights were kept separated from other travellers and those who tested positive are being kept in isolation at a hotel near the airport.

A spokesperson for the health ministry said it would not be known until later Saturday whether any of passengers are infected with the new variant.

A spokesperson for KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France, said the airline was trying to determine what rules were in place as of Friday morning to prevent people with COVID-19 infections from boarding the flights, which departed from Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Rules on the company’s website said passengers had to present a negative COVID-19 “rapid antigen” test result taken 24 hours before departure but were not required to show proof of vaccination.

‘REALLY WEIRD’

Paula Zimmerman, a Dutch photographer who returned from a family visit in South Africa on Friday morning, said the situation for the passengers on the planes was chaotic, as they were kept waiting on the tarmac and in the terminal for hours.

Zimmerman was told she had tested negative at 4 a.m., almost 18 hours after landing in Amsterdam, but said she then found out she was standing right next to a man who knew he had tested positive for an infection.

“It was really weird. There was no coordination. There were too few people and there really wasn’t anybody who took control.”

Having spent hours on a flight that likely had many infected passengers made Zimmerman anxious for the days to come, she said.

“I’ve been told that they expect that a lot more people will test positive after five days. It’s a little scary the idea that you’ve been in a plane with a lot of people who tested positive.”

The Dutch flight ban does not mean that all flights from southern Africa to the Netherlands are halted, as Dutch citizens are allowed to return home, while EU citizens are allowed entry in transit to their home countries.

Medical staff, airline crews and people with pressing needs are also still allowed to travel. KLM will continue flights to the region, but travellers need to stay in quarantine for at least five days upon arrival in the Netherlands.

The new variant https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/what-we-know-about-covid-19-variant-detected-south-africa-2021-11-26 has been detected just as many European countries are grappling with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Dutch government on Friday announced https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/netherlands-impose-new-covid-measures-avoid-healthcare-breakdown-2021-11-26 the nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores as it tries to curb a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is swamping its healthcare system.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart Meijer and Johnny Cotton.Editing by Frances Kerry)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

The sign of the Listvyazhnaya coal mine is seen on a roadside near the mine in Kemerovo region
The sign reading “Listvyazhnaya coal mine and processing plant” is seen on a roadside near the mine in the Kemerovo region, Russia, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Solomon Islands Police Find 3 Bodies After Violent Protests

CANBERRA, Australia—Solomon Islands police found three bodies in a burned-out building and arrested more than 100 people in this week’s violence sparked by concerns about the Pacific nation’s increasing links with China. Australian media reported the bodies were recovered late Friday after riots and protests subsided. No other details were given. Authorities imposed a curfew in the capital Honiara, after a 36-hour lockdown ordered by the embattled Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare ended Friday. Sogavare blamed outside interference for stirring up the protests calling for his resignation. Sogavare has been widely criticized by leaders of the country’s most populous island of Malaita for a 2019 decision to drop diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of mainland China. Beijing claims the self-ruled island of Taiwan as part of its territory. His government, meanwhile, has been upset over millions in U.S. aid promised directly to Malaita, rather than through the central government on …

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

Armed servicemen wait near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava
Armed servicemen wait near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

Protest against planned reform to anti-terrorism and gagging laws, in Madrid
People attend a protest against the proposed changes to anti-terrorism and gagging laws, which police officers say will undermine their authority and jeopardise the safety of citizens, in Madrid, Spain, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Javier Barbancho

November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Erdogan orders probe into Turkish lira’s slump – Anadolu

November 27, 2021

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has ordered an investigation into possible currency manipulation after the lira fell sharply to record lows against the dollar this week, the Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday.

It said Erdogan had tasked the State Supervisory Council, an auditing agency which reports to the presidency, to identify institutions that had bought large amounts of foreign currency and to determine whether any manipulation had occurred.

The lira plunged to record lows this week after Erdogan pledged to stick with a policy of easing interest rates. It has lost as much as 45% of its value this year, with about half of those losses in the last two weeks.

The currency fell as far as 13.45 to the dollar in a historic 15% selloff https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/turkish-lira-drifts-off-record-low-erdogan-defends-policy-rate-2021-11-23 on Tuesday that followed a speech in which Erdogan defended the central bank’s move to slash its policy rate to 15%, despite inflation of 20%.

During the speech, he said Turkey was fighting an “economic war of independence” and would not yield to pressure to change course.

“We are seeing the games that are being played over the exchange rate, interest rates and price rises by those who want to push our country out of the equation,” he said.

Turkey’s State Supervisory Council can demand that organisations present relevant information and documents, and will forward its findings to relevant authorities, state-owned Anadolu said.

(Reporting by Azra Ceylan; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Helen Popper)

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Travel Bans Over Omicron Variant ‘Unjustified’ South Africa’s Health Minister Says

Travel bans and restrictions imposed on South Africa and other African countries over a new CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus variant aren’t justified, South Africa’s health minister said Friday. The new strain, dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization, was first reported in South Africa earlier this week. The actions of some countries, including the United Kingdom, are “unjustified,” Joe Phaahla, South Africa’s health minister, told a virtual media briefing. South African scientists made information available on Omicron in the interest of transparency and there are concerns the variant may be more transmissible, officials told reporters. But there is no evidence of that at this time and even if it was more transmissible, that doesn’t mean it will cause more severe cases in people, Phaahla added. Travel bans go against the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), South African officials noted. Both WHO and South African officials portrayed the bans as punishing the …

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