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.
French Sailor Survives 16 Hours in Capsized Boat in Atlantic Ocean Before Rescue
A 62-year-old French man survived for 16 hours in an air bubble inside his capsized sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean before being rescued in an operation described as “verging on the impossible”.
The 40ft Jeanne SOLO Sailor sent out a distress signal at 20.23 on Monday from 14 miles from the Sisargas Islands off Spain’s northwestern Galicia region, the coast guard said.
A rescue ship carrying five divers set sail to rescue the man, who has not been named, as one of three helicopters sent to aid the search located the upturned vessel as the sun went down.
The man responded to divers seeking signs of life by banging on the hull from the inside.
Pic: Salvamento Maritimo
However at the time the sea was too rough to attempt a rescue, so the team attached buoyancy balloons to the ship’s hull to prevent it from sinking further and waited until the morning.
The man was found under the boat wearing a neoprene survival suit submerged in water up to his knees, as two divers swam under to help him out.
He was airlifted to safety and taken to hospital for checks but released soon afterwards with no issues.
Vicente Cobelo, a member of the coastguard’s special operations team, told a local station the man voluntarily jumped into the freezing water and swam under the boat to reach the sea’s surface.
He said: “Of his own initiative, he got into the water and free dived out, helped by the divers who had to pull him through because it was difficult for him to get out in his suit”.
Tracking data had shown the Jeanne SOLO Sailor had set sail from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon on the morning of the previous day.
Original Article: news.sky.com
Adam Boulton: Pelosi’s Actions May Be About to Drastically Reshape the World
China’s determination to take control of Taiwan is often cited as one of the likeliest causes of World War Three – a conflict which, it is widely accepted, could even end human civilisation altogether.
Nancy Pelosi duly went ahead anyway.
She was cheered by crowds and praised by Taiwanese Prime Minister Tsai-Ing Wen on Wednesday for her “ironclad” commitment to defending democracy on the island.
She then continued her tour in other Asian countries, while the consequences of her visit are only just hotting up.
On the economic front, China has already banned the import of fruit and fish from Taiwanese sources.
The Chinese government pre-announced that from Thursday it would conduct “live fire” military exercises in six areas of sea around Taiwan, including in what Taiwan claims as its territorial waters, as close as ten miles off the island’s coast.
China has warned all ships and planes to stay out of the area, but the possibility cannot be ruled out that bystanders will be hit, followed by demands for retaliation.
Over the next few tense days and weeks, it remains to be seen whether Mrs Pelosi’s visit, beyond being a provocation to the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC), will actually inflame the decades-long stand-off over the future of the island.
Decades of threats over Taiwan
A Taiwan navy ship patrolling the waters between the island and the Chinese mainland
The split between Taiwan and mainland China dates back to the Second World War. The defeated Japanese handed Taiwan back to the non-communist government of the Republic of China in 1945. But that government itself was in retreat from the communist takeover. By 1949 it had been pushed back onto the island of Taiwan – roughly 100 miles off the mainland.
Taiwan has prospered as a capitalist democracy, with a highly educated population of some twenty million people.
In the strategic struggle between the superpowers, it is more valuable than ever, because its Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is the dominant supplier globally of high-end computer chips.
Taiwan was treated by the west as the legitimate representative of all of China, until 1971 when, as part of the “Nixon in China” opening of relations, UN Resolution 2758 recognized the PRC as “the only legitimate representative of China” and the PRC became a permanent member of the Security Council alongside the US, UK, USSR and France.
The status of Taiwan was unresolved except for various verbal commitments to help the island defend its de facto, but not de jure, independence from the communist PRC.
The PRC has never abandoned its insistence that Taiwan is a breakaway part of the nation which should legitimately be incorporated into its territory. There have been numerous threats and low level confrontations with Chinese forces over the decades especially in the Taiwan Straits separating the two countries.
There is concern now that the Chinese actions and exercises being taken in response to Pelosi’s visit could be harsher and more prolonged than any seen previously, coming close to a temporary blockade.
So far the Taiwanese people appear to be taking it all in their stride, less fearful that the situation will escalate catastrophically than outside observers.
Why tensions are rising now
The growing tensions between China and Taiwan explained
There is no doubt that the rhetoric and apparent threat of an armed invasion by China have increased recently.
Xi Jinping is about to hold a meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee confirming that he can stay on as president for life beyond two terms in office.
Nationalism has become central to his campaign to stay in power as China has struggled with COVID and a stalling economy.
Xi went beyond the careful language of his predecessors to state officially that “unification must be fulfilled” and soon, because the Taiwan issue “cannot be passed down from generation to generation”.
The West has responded by upping military co-operation in the region. NATO recently held a joint meeting with Japan and South Korea. The US, UK and Australia are participants in the controversial AUKUS project, so Australia can build up a nuclear submarine capability. The new British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and a strike carrier group were deployed last year to the South China Sea in spite of warnings from China.
This only amounts to gestures of defiance. In practice, nations worried about China still want to keep their position on Taiwan ambiguous.
President Biden rowed back from saying “Yes” to the use of US forces in response to a Chinese invasion. The White House did not endorse Mrs Pelosi’s visit pointing out that Congress is an independent branch of government. The president’s inability to control the behaviour of one of the most senior office holders in his Democrat Party drew criticism at home and abroad.
Lessons from the Ukraine crisis
F-16V fighter jets during a drill in Taiwan. File pic
To some, including Mrs Pelosi, the cautious approach taken to Taiwan is reminiscent of the attitude adopted, ineffectively, in the face of Russian threats against Ukraine.
The British Foreign Secretary was one who drew a parallel.
“There is always a tendency of wishful thinking to think that more bad things won’t happen and to wait until it’s too late,” Liz Truss said in June. “We should have been supplying the defensive weapons into Ukraine earlier. We need to learn that lesson for Taiwan.”
But now that she is front runner to become Prime Minister her campaign has clarified that this was not a suggestion that the UK should help arm Taiwan.
Boris Johnson was similarly evasive on the extent of Britain’s commitment to Taiwan, when challenged in the Commons by former Prime Minister Theresa May.
Why Pelosi is acting now
Nancy Pelosi praised Taiwan for being ‘one of the freest societies in the world.’
Nancy Pelosi is running out of time.
Throughout her four decades in public life, representing California on the Pacific coast, she has been a champion of human rights and a strong critic of China including over Tibet, Hong Kong, the Uyghurs, and Taiwan.
The Speaker is third in line to be president and she wanted to make her point with the full weight of her current office.
She may well not be Speaker after November’s mid-term elections, when the Republicans are expected to replace the Democrats as the majority party in the House. Aged 82, she has also said she wants to wind down her leadership role soon.
Nancy Pelosi may have been indulging in gesture politics at the end of a long career but she has highlighted a moral and geopolitical quandary over Taiwan which may be about to drastically reshape the lives of rising generations around the world.
Original Article: news.sky.com
China Begins Military Exercises Around Taiwan Hours After Two Suspected Drones Fly Over Island’s Territory
China has begun another series of military exercises around Taiwan as tensions continue to rise following a 24-hour visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Chinese state media is reporting the drills are under way hours after suspected drones flew over Taiwan’s territory on Wednesday and hackers targeted the defence ministry’s website.
Taiwan said before the military exercises began on Thursday morning that some of the drills were due to take place within its 12-nautical-mile sea and air territory.
That has never happened before and a senior ministry official described the potential move as “amounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan”.
China’s Xinhua news agency had said the exercises, involving live fire drills, would take place in six areas which ring Taiwan from 5am UK time.
It comes as China’s foreign minister described Ms Pelosi’s visit as “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational”.
Taiwan said before the latest round of drills began that it would respond by strengthening its self-defence capabilities and closely coordinate with the United States and like-minded countries.
Taiwan also said its military is closely monitoring the situation in the strait between the island and mainland China.
The ministry added it will “react appropriately” to enemy behaviour to “safeguard national security and sovereignty”.
Taiwan has been on alert while China has been conducting military exercises in response to the 24-hour visit by Ms Pelosi, the most senior American politician to visit the island in 25 years.
China considers the island to be part of its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments.
On Thursday, Major General Chang Zone-sung, from the Taiwanese army’s Kinmen Defense Command, said a pair of suspected drones flew into the area of the Kinmen islands at around 9pm and 10pm local time (2pm and 3pm UK time) on Wednesday night.
The heavily fortified islands, governed by Taiwan, are just off the southeastern coast of China near the city of Xiamen.
“We immediately fired flares to issue warnings and to drive them away. After that, they turned around. They came into our restricted area and that’s why we dispersed them,” Major General Chang said.
“We have a standard operating procedure. We will react if they come in,” he continued.
Nancy Pelosi speaks at a meeting at the presidential office in Taiwan
Major General Chang said he believed the drones were intended to gather intelligence on Taiwan’s security deployment in its outlying islands.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it is working closely with other authorities to enhance cyber security after hackers targeted its website and temporarily brought it offline.
The cyber attack comes after several of Taiwan’s government websites, including the presidential office, were targeted earlier this week.
Taiwanese authorities said some of the attacks were carried out by China and Russia.
The continuous cyber attacks on government websites “have not caused damage so far”, a Taiwan cabinet spokesman said.
Taiwan’s government is now urging the island’s companies to enhance their cybersecurity in the coming days as authorities were seeing a record number of attacks on their websites amid escalating tensions with China.
Could Taiwan defend itself against China?
Earlier on Wednesday, Taiwan scrambled jets to warn away 27 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone, the island’s defence ministry said, adding that 22 of them crossed the median line separating the island from China.
Neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line.
It came before China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said punishment of pro-Taiwan independence diehards and external forces was reasonable and lawful.
Read more:Why is Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan so controversial – and why are US-China tensions so high?Analysis: Adam Boulton on the rising rhetoric stirred up by Nancy Pelosi’s visitPelosi leaves Taiwan as China is accused of invading territory in show on force
The Beijing-based office added that Taiwan is not a “regional” issue but China’s internal affair.
A suspected Taiwanese separatist was detained by state security in East China’s Zhejiang province on suspicion of endangering national security on Wednesday, China’s state media reported.
Ms Pelosi concluded her visit to Taiwan on Wednesday with a pledge that the US commitment to democracy on the self-governing island and elsewhere “remains ironclad”.
Original Source: news.sky.com
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