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How Are Other Countries Responding to the Rise of Omicron?

Taylor Johnston

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With record numbers of daily infections in recent days, the UK is currently a hotspot for Omicron – but the latest COVID-19 variant has hit other countries around the world, too.

The US government’s chief medical officer Dr Anthony Fauci has called on Americans to get vaccinated, as densely populated areas such as New York City have seen a surge in cases, and some European countries have reintroduced stricter restrictions.

Follow the latest COVID updates in our live blog

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UK has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Europe and the second highest in the world – 436,870 – in the last seven days.

Here’s what the COVID situation looks like around the world.

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United States

The first Omicron case was detected in the US on 1 December and since then numbers have increased by 40%.

Several large events have been cancelled or postponed, with three NFL matches delayed after outbreaks. The National Hockey League was also forces to cancel games, while performances of the Michael Jackson musical on Broadway have been called off.

Dr Tom Frieden, the former chief of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, has urged people to get their booster jabs, warning of a “tidal wave of Omicron likely coming to a hospital near you soon”.

Despite the surge in cases, lockdowns of workplaces and social gatherings have not been put in place.

According to WHO data, the US has seen almost 800,000 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.

In the past seven days, some 571,461 cases were reported, the highest in the world in the last week.

The total number of coronavirus cases is now almost 50 million in the United States.

Germany

Germany is among several European countries that have introduced tougher measures for UK travellers.

As of midnight on Monday 20 December, people travelling from the UK to Germany have to quarantine.

“The spread of Omicron in the UK is very evident… We have to prevent the spread for as long as possible and slow it down as much as possible,” German ministers said in a statement.

People arriving from the UK must also provide a negative coronavirus test under the new rules.

Germany recorded its first Omicron case on 27 November. A total of 297,855 COVID cases have been recorded in the last week.

Spain

British tourists can only enter Spain if they show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Until recently, unvaccinated travellers were allowed into the country if they could present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before their arrival.

“The appearance of new variants… obliges an increase in restrictions,” the government has said.

Spain’s Industry, Trade and Tourism department said approximately 300,000 British people who are resident in Spain will not be affected by the new measures.

In football, Real Madrid’s unbeaten record in La Liga ended on Sunday with a 0-0 draw against strugglers Cadiz – the team had been without six players due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

According to WHO data, some 143,400 cases and 195 deaths have been reported in Spain in the last seven days.

France

On 16 December, France banned British tourists because of the rise in Omicron cases in the UK.

Those with a “compelling reason” are still able to travel but have to register the address of their stay in France.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFM television that restriction measures include reducing the validity of pre-departure PCR tests to 24 hours from 48 for travellers arriving from Britain.

The Delta variant remains dominant in France, which has recorded 350,382 total coronavirus cases and 973 deaths in the past seven days.

Portugal

Officials in Portugal have not introduced any new COVID-19 measures yet, despite the rise of Omicron.

Almost 30,000 total cases and 107 deaths were reported in the country in the last week.

Analysis by Adam Parsons, Europe Correspondent

Countries in mainland Europe are looking toward the UK and seeing the proportion of Omicron cases, so now they are trying to buy some time.

Every day that passes is an opportunity to get millions of booster jabs into people before the Omicron wave really hits.

That may not take long. Figures suggest that in Paris for instance, the proportion of cases showing the Omicron variant is rising, fast.

That explains the restrictions that have been inflicted upon visitors coming from the UK to Germany, France, Ireland and Cyprus.

A question for the future is – once Europe gets really hit by the new Omicron wave, will there be any value in retaining those travel restrictions?

Of course, it isn’t just down to Omicron. In fact, Delta cases continue to cause countries to bring in new restrictions on the day-to-day lives of citizens.

The Netherlands has gone into something that is akin to an old school full lockdown.

Denmark, one of the first countries to relax COVID rules, has brought them back into places like restaurants, bars and cinemas.

There is also widespread use of vaccine passports in a growing number of places across much of Western Europe.

At the same time, Austria has moved away from its less restrictive lockdown rules, having seen a fall in the number of cases.

The EU, under the guise of Ursula von der Leyen, would love to have a single set of rules but that isn’t happening and I doubt it will happen any time soon.

Instead, we have some echoes of what happened last year, a patchwork of different restrictions, border requirements and health mandates with each country falling back on its own decision making

Italy and Spain will have meetings later this week to discuss their own restrictions.

Those are countries, particularly in the case of Spain, that have been reluctant to be tough on British visitors due to the role of tourism in its economy.

Germany, a very different economy, has put in something at the end of the scale – effectively telling UK visitors not to come because they will spend their whole time in quarantine.

Whether or not Europe moves towards a whole scale restriction against the UK is in the balance.

It depends on how long it takes for Omicron to be dominant across the continent.

South Africa

South Africa has reported the highest number of cases in Africa in the last seven days and the fifth highest globally.

There were 162,364 new infections in the last week, almost a month since the first Omicron case was reported in South Africa.

On 20 December, President Cyril Ramaphosa returned to work following a week of isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

He had mild symptoms and was treated at his official residence in Cape Town by the military health service.

Despite a surge in cases in the last month, hospitalisations remain low with experts stating that vaccines and natural immunity are protecting people from more severe symptoms.

Mr Ramaphosa previously said South Africa would not impose new restrictions, but would “undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations”.

Current regulations in South Africa make it mandatory to wear face coverings in public and restrict indoor gatherings to 750 people and outdoor gatherings to 2,000.

The Netherlands

On 28 November, Dutch health officials detected 13 Omicron cases among people who flew from South Africa – making the Netherlands the first European country to report cases of the new variant.

The country entered into a tough lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron on Sunday 19 December, with non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and other public places closing, as well as schools.

The “unavoidable” lockdown will run until at least 14 January, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

Shops, bars, and restaurants in the country had already been under a 5pm to 5am curfew, which was introduced at the end of November.

A total of 108,521 COVID-19 cases and 391 deaths have been reported in the Netherlands in the past week.

Italy

From 6 December, unvaccinated Italians faced tougher rules.

The “super green pass” requires vaccination, rather than including those who have received a recent negative test result. It is compulsory for entry to sports events, concerts, theatres, indoor restaurants and public events.

The previously introduced “green pass”, which can be obtained with a negative test result, will be acceptable for the use of local transport and hotels.

In the past seven days, Italy has recorded some 143,400 cases and 750 deaths.

Australia

Compared to cases globally, Australia has one of the lowest rates of new COVID-19 cases reported in the last seven days, 15,057, with a similar number of cases as Iran and Colombia.

Earlier this year, England’s Ashes tour was at risk because of rising cases in key Australian cities, including Sydney and Melbourne but tough restrictions for much of their winter has seen a dip in infections.

But, behind the numbers, there are concerns of a spike because of the Omicron variant.

According to reports, 10 testing sites in Melbourne were shut after reaching capacity, while there were long waiting times at centres in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced on Monday that he would discuss the Omicron outbreak with premiers at a snap national cabinet meeting on Friday.

New Zealand

As has been the case for most of the pandemic, New Zealand has managed to keep infections low.

In the latest seven day period, there were 600 positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 12,947.

What are the symptoms of the omicron variant?

COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced in November that fully vaccinated international travellers will be allowed into the country from 2022.

The border will first open to citizens and residents travelling from Australia on 16 January, before expanding to include New Zealanders living elsewhere on 13 February,

Fully vaccinated visitors from all other countries, except those deemed “high risk,” can visit the Pacific Island nation from 30 April, Mr Hipkins said.

Thailand

Since the pandemic began the Thai economy has been devastated as it relies heavily on tourism.

The government lifted restrictions to tourists in November, but it reported its first Omicron case on 20 December and is now considering reinstating some restrictions.

This includes the return of mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors.

In the last seven days, there were 24,717 new infections in Thailand.

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French Sailor Survives 16 Hours in Capsized Boat in Atlantic Ocean Before Rescue

Taylor Johnston

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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.

Image:
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.

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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”.

Read more:Stranded boaters jump for joy as they’re rescued in AlaskaDivers rescue diamond ring after woman dropped it in Massachusetts river

Tracking data had shown the Jeanne SOLO Sailor had set sail from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon on the morning of the previous day.

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Original Article: news.sky.com

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Adam Boulton: Pelosi’s Actions May Be About to Drastically Reshape the World

Taylor Johnston

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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.

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned in advance that the Speaker of the US House of Representatives was “playing with fire” with her planned visit to Taiwan.

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.

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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.

More on Taiwan

China begins military exercises around Taiwan hours after two suspected drones fly over island’s territory

Pelosi’s visit may be unhelpful and unnecessary as China and US seek to avoid war over Taiwan

Taiwan news – live: China’s missiles ‘land in Japan’s economic zone’; expert says ‘this is how it begins’ and predicts possible invasion

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

Image:
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.

Read more on Taiwan:Why is Nancy Pelosi’s visit so controversial?US is “playing with fire” and “will get burnt”

Why tensions are rising now

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4:52

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

Image:
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.

Read more from Adam Boulton:Why Tories should pick a leader for the nation – not the partyNo turning back: The abortion divide between UK and USThe ties that bond the UK together are under stress

Why Pelosi is acting now

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1:02

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.

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Original Article: news.sky.com

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China Begins Military Exercises Around Taiwan Hours After Two Suspected Drones Fly Over Island’s Territory

Taylor Johnston

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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.

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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.

More on China

Pelosi’s visit may be unhelpful and unnecessary as China and US seek to avoid war over Taiwan

Taiwan news – live: China’s missiles ‘land in Japan’s economic zone’; expert says ‘this is how it begins’ and predicts possible invasion

Why is Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan so controversial – and why are US-China tensions so high?

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.

Image:
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.

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2:39

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”.

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Original Source: news.sky.com

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