The World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to deploy a surge team to South Africa to help deal with the new Omicron COVID variant outbreak.
The team will be sent to Gauteng province to help with surveillance and contact tracing as experts warned the new variant could be causing an increase in COVID reinfections across the country.
WHO regional emergency director for Africa, Salam Gueye, also said it was providing technical assistance to boost the production and distribution of medical oxygen in Botswana – another country where Omicron has been detected.
The variant is thought to be causing more reinfections in South Africa than the Beta and Delta variants did, South African Professor Anne von Gottberg warned.
A reinfection is classed as someone who tests positive for COVID at least 90 days after a previous infection.
Asked exactly how many more reinfections are being caused by Omicron, the professor said it is “difficult to quantify”.
Barry Schoub, chair of the South African government’s committee on COVID vaccines, told Sky News initial signs were “good news”.
He said: “Certainly, at this stage, the news does look to be promising – the great majority of the breakthrough infection (in other words, individuals that have had infection despite vaccination) is mild.
“Our hospital surveillance is showing a little bit of an uptick but certainly nothing as dramatic as we’ve seen in the previous waves.
“We’ve only had this virus around for just over a week so I think we really need to watch this space.”
Top tips from WHO to stop COVID spread
When asked about the UK’s reaction to the Omicron variant, Mr Schoub said: “I think it’s an over-reaction, I think it’s the wrong reaction.
“It’s a punitive measure against the economy of South Africa – it’s going to be a disincentive, in fact, for countries to actually report their variants because it’s to their disadvantage.”
“I think that’s a bad thing. I think we do need to have openness, we do need to have transparency and science but any kind of reaction needs to be based on scientific evidence, not on political motives,” he added.
Professor von Gottberg said that South Africa has high seroprevalence – meaning many people have already contracted COVID – but early data suggests “previous infection does not provide them with protection from infection due to Omicron”.
She added that it is “early days” in the analysis of the new variant and said that “we all need to monitor the data as soon as they come out”.
Analysis by Thomas Moore, science correspondent
This was a more optimistic assessment of the Omicron threat.
More people than expected are being reinfected in South Africa as the new variant rapidly spreads. But their symptoms are less severe.
It’s early days of course, but scientists have been puzzling over the likely effect of Omicron’s constellation of mutations.
Many had predicted that antibodies from a previous infection or vaccination may not fully protect against the virus.
And it seems that is the case.
According to Professor Anne von Gottberg, from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the number of reinfections in the current surge is higher than in the previous wave caused by Delta.
She told a news briefing by the World Health Organisation that Omicron doesn’t seem to be any more contagious than Delta.
But the population is more susceptible, even though antibody levels from vaccination and previous waves of COVID are high.
But here’s the good news.
People who have been previously infected are developing less severe disease. And she said that would also hold true for people who have been vaccinated.
So while our antibodies may not stop infection, they may be good enough to prevent hospitalisation and death.
We need a couple more weeks of data to be sure, but if it’s confirmed then the chances of another lockdown would seem to recede.
Despite this, she said scientists remain hopeful there will still be protection against serious illness and death.
“We need to talk and brainstorm about what is happening, have the experts interrogate the data, and I’m hoping that we work quickly,” she said.
“Quickly to understand the variant, and quickly to open up borders again and allow for people to move between countries.”
The WHO added that most African countries have enough vaccine doses to respond to a surge in demand for people wanting to get the jab.
Man Trying to Cross Channel Dies in Sub-zero Conditions After Going Overboard
A manslaughter investigation is under way in France after a migrant died in sub-zero conditions while trying to cross the English Channel.
The Sudanese man was pulled from the water unconscious after going overboard in the early hours of Friday as he and others attempted to reach the UK.
Aged in his 20s, he was declared dead after being taken back to shore by French rescue teams.
Image: Rescued migrants were suffering from hypothermia
A total of 32 people were rescued off Berck, near Calais, suffering from hypothermia, authorities said.
The prosecutor in Boulogne-sur-Mer said a manslaughter investigation has been opened.
The fatality has been reported less than two months after at least 27 people died when their boat sank off the coast of France.
More than 450 people have already made the life-threatening trip in small boats in 2022.
In UK waters on Friday, multiple Border Force vessels were active off the Kent coast.
About 35 people were seen being brought to shore by immigration staff.
On Thursday, at least 271 people aboard 10 small boats reached England.
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said there were “no simple answers” to the problem.
He added: “But we urge the government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.
“This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the latest death was made “all the more unbearable because of the refusal of governments on both sides of the Channel to address the needs and rights of people compelled to attempt these dangerous journeys”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has called for more co-operation with Europe in an effort to solve the issue.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This tragic loss of life in France today is devastating and our thoughts are with the victim’s family and loved ones.
“It is sadly another reminder of the extreme dangers of crossing the Channel in small boats and of how vital it is that we work closely together with France to prevent people from making these dangerous crossings.
“The government’s New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken system to welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing the criminality associated with it.”
Original Source: news.sky.com
Djokovic to Be Detained Again As Australia Cancels Tennis Star’s Visa
Novak Djokovic will be detained again in Australia from tomorrow morning after his lawyers appealed a decision by the country’s immigration minister to cancel his visa for a second time.
‘You need to be vaccinated to compete’
But he won a court appeal against the cancellation that allowed him to remain in the country.
At the time, the Australian government said it would continue to look at whether he could stay, which was a decision that was entirely at the discretion of immigration minister Alex Hawke.
He announced on Friday that the Serbian’s visa had been cancelled again, this time on public health grounds.
At a court hearing, Djokovic’s lawyers asked for an injunction to block his removal from the country, saying the reasons behind Mr Hawke’s decision are “patently irrational”.
Image: Djokovic was practising for the Australian Open on Friday morning
Djokovic will be free for Friday night but will be detained at 8am on Saturday morning after being interviewed at the Department for Home Affairs.
The 34-year-old will then be able to spend time with his lawyers to prepare for his case but will be taken back into detention on Saturday night.
His legal team are pushing for a hearing to take place on Sunday, in the hope of a decision being made ahead of the Australian Open.
Mr Hawke said he made his judgement after “carefully” considering information from the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and from Djokovic.
“Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” he said in a statement.
“The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
‘This is not over yet’, says Djokovic’s mum
Under the section of the Migration Act used by the minister, Djokovic will not be able to secure a visa to come to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect the country’s interest.
Commenting on the decision, Mr Morrison said Australians have made “many sacrifices” during the pandemic.
“They rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he added. “The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods.
“Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic.”
‘One of the most extraordinary spectacles’
The polls would have suggested that the majority of the Australian public expected the government to cancel his visa.
It has taken the Australian government just 96 hours after that court case that got so much attention at the start of the week to make its decision.
Now, we know that Novak Djokovic has admitted to misleading Australian authorities when filling out paperwork in relation to his arrival for the Australian Open, and we know that he in all likelihood broke the Serbian COVID rules.
That is because he tested positive on 16 December and didn’t necessarily isolate.
This is such a mess on the eve of the Australian Open. They made the draw yesterday and Djokovic was included but we understand from Melbourne that the decision is to kick him out and cancel his visa.
It is one of the most extraordinary spectacles in sport, off the tennis court. It has been so bitter on both sides, and it has polarised the anti-vaccination debate.
It has really become much bigger than that now. The polls suggested the majority of the Australian public wanted him kicked out, and the immigration minister has finally acted.
What about the Australian Open?
The second cancellation of Djokovic’s visa comes after he was drawn against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the Australian Open, which is due to begin on Monday.
The men’s tennis world number one could still file a legal challenge, but if not, his hopes of winning a 10th title at Melbourne Park and 21st grand slam crown will come to an end.
In order to stand a chance at competing, his lawyers would need to go before a judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court or a higher judge of the Federal Court to get two urgent orders.
Watch: Djokovic training session
One order would be an injunction to prevent his deportation, like the one he gained last week.
The second would order Mr Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.
If he is forced out of the tournament ahead of Monday’s order of play being announced, the seeds will be shuffled around, with fifth seed Andrey Rublev taking the tennis star’s place.
‘Not great for the Australian Open – not great for Novak’
British tennis player Andy Murray described the fallout as “not a good situation”.
He added that it was “not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak and obviously a lot of people have criticised the government here as well, so it’s not been good.
“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down, I said it the other day, it’s not a good situation for anyone,” he said.
My Agent Ticked the Wrong Box! Djokovic Tries to Explain ‘mistake’ on Australia Entry Form
Novak Djokovic has said his agent made a mistake on his Australia entry form when providing details of his travel in the days before his arrival in the country.
In an Instagram post, he said his “team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter”.
He also admitted being interviewed in person by a journalist from a French magazine in December, even though he had tested positive for COVID the day before.
It comes as the Serbian player returned to practice on the tennis court, with photos showing him at Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open – which starts on 17 January and for which Djokovic has been named the number one seed.
Image: Djokovic rests during practice ahead of the Australian Open
In his post, the world number one said he wanted to address the “continuing misinformation” about his movements after testing positive in December, before his arrival in Australia.
A key issue has been his Australia entry form and whether the tennis player might have incorrectly filled it out when he ticked a box indicating he hadn’t travelled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on 6 January.
A social media post appears to show Djokovic attended an event in Marbella, Spain, during the period in question.
Separate photos also show the world tennis number one at a training session in the country on 2 January.
Djokovic apparently training in Spain before Australia trip
Speaking out on Instagram, Djokovic said: “On the issue of my travel declaration, this was submitted by my support team on my behalf as I told immigration officials on my arrival – and my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia.
“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur.
“Today, my team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter.
“While I felt it was important to address and clarify misinformation I will not be making any further comment out of utmost respect for the Australian Government and their authorities and the current process.”
Positive COVID test before interview
Djokovic also admitted attending an interview with French magazine L’Equipe the day after receiving his positive PCR result in December because he “felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L’Equipe interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down”.
“While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he wrote.
He said he received the positive result on 17 December, the same day as he had attended a tennis event in Belgrade to present awards to children.
However, transcripts of Djokovic’s interview with Australian immigration officials submitted to the court in Melbourne show he told them the positive PCR result was on the 16th, the day before the Belgrade event.
‘The most difficult time for us’
Novak Djokovic’s mother has said she is worried that her son could still be deported from Australia and miss the first open of the year because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Speaking to the Australian TV channel Network Seven from Belgrade, Dijana Djokovic said her family is hoping her son will get the chance to defend his title.
Image: Dijana Djokovic, the world number one’s mother, believes the matter is a ‘closed book’
“He’s not a politician, he is not a criminal, he’s not a murderer, he’s just a tennis player, the best in the world. Just let him play,” she said.
She feels that Djokovic’s case should be a “closed book” after a judge said he could stay in Australia.
“I’m very worried, so I realise that this is not over yet, and we are all praying that he will stay, and he will play,” Mrs Djokovic said.
“I don’t think it’s fair. At least, Judge, Honourable Judge Kelly, he decided, to make a decision that he is free, so I cannot understand how one man can, you know, make the other decision. But I don’t know your laws in your country, so I really don’t understand.”
Read more on this story:
Transcript of Australia Border Force interview shows tennis star’s shock at visa cancellation
The tennis star has reiterated his intention to compete in the open, writing that “it is always an honour and a privilege to play in the Australian Open”.
“I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world,” he said.
Original Post: news.sky.com
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