It is too soon for countries to be treating COVID as an endemic illness like flu, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned, because there is still a “huge amount of uncertainty” regarding the spread of the Omicron variant.
Omicron is on track to infect more than half of Europeans in the next two months, WHO’s Europe director Hans Kluge told reporters on Tuesday.
It comes after Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested the UK could be one of the first countries to “transition” from a pandemic to endemic.
World faces ‘continued COVID surges’
Omicron on track to infect more than half of Europeans in two months
Europe saw more than seven million new reported cases in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period.
“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks,” Mr Kluge told a news briefing, referring to a research centre at the University of Washington.
Fifty out of 53 countries in Europe and central Asia have logged cases of the more transmissible variant.
Since it was first reported by scientists in South Africa in November, the COVID-19 strain has spread internationally and is now known to be in at least a third of countries.
The transition from pandemic to endemic
Several studies have shown the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is lower than from Delta.
But the WHO has cautioned more studies are still needed to prove this.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday that it may be time to track the ongoing COVID crisis in a similar method to the flu due to its lethality falling.
He said: “I believe that we have the conditions for, with precaution, slowly, opening the debate at the technical level and at the level of health professionals, but also at the European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now.”
At the weekend, Mr Zahawi told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that’s five six, seven, 10 years.”
‘Still huge amount of uncertainty’
WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, has since warned against treating the virus as endemic.
She said: “We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.”
Read more from Sky News:
Private hospitals to help NHS cope with Omicron strain
Mr Kluge said 26 European countries reported that more than 1% of their populations are being infected with COVID each week, before urgently warning there is a “closing window of opportunity” for countries to prevent their health systems from being overwhelmed.
He added: “Omicron moves faster and wider than any (previous) variant we have seen.”
Original Article: news.sky.com
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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