Omicron threat | Travel bans may do more harm than good, warns WHO

News Network
December 1, 2021

The World Health Organization has warned blanket travel bans will not prevent the spread of Omicron, as more countries rushed to impose curbs and the first cases of the new Covid strain were detected in Latin America.

In the week since the new virus strain was reported by South Africa, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel restrictions -- most targeting southern African nations.

But the World Health Organization warned Tuesday that "blanket" travel bans risked doing more harm than good, just as Canada expanded its restrictions.

In a travel advisory, the WHO warned the bans could ultimately dissuade countries from sharing data about the evolving virus.

But it did advise that unvaccinated people vulnerable to Covid-19, including over-60s, should avoid travel to areas with community transmission of the virus.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was understandable for countries to seek to protect their citizens "against a variant we don't yet fully understand".

But he called for the global response to be "calm, coordinated and coherent", urging nations to "take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures".

The likely futility of broad travel restrictions was underscored as Dutch authorities reported that Omicron was present in the country before South Africa officially reported its first cases on November 25.

The new variant -- whose high number of mutations the WHO believes may make it more transmissible or resistant to vaccines -- was found in two Dutch test samples from November 19 and 23, with one having no travel history.

So far, well over a dozen countries and territories have detected cases, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and Portugal.

Latin America reported its first two cases Tuesday -- in people who travelled from South Africa to Brazil -- and a first case was confirmed in Japan, one day after it barred all foreign arrivals.

However, US President Joe Biden said the travel bans on just the southern African nations would stay in place, without referencing the other places where Omicron has been detected.

Asked how long travel restrictions that took effect Monday on South Africa and seven other southern African countries would remain, Biden said it "kind of depends".

"We're going to learn a lot more in the next couple weeks about the lethality of this virus, about how much it spreads, what we have to control it, etcetera," he told reporters.

Asked if any expansion of the travel restrictions to other countries could be made suddenly, as happened under former president Donald Trump, Biden said: "Unlike Trump I don't shock our allies."

In Asia, governments continued Wednesday to expand restrictions, including with Indonesia adding Hong Kong to its travel ban list alongside various African nations.

Hong Kong also added three more countries - Japan, Portugal and Sweden -- to its highest travel restriction category after Omicron cases were discovered in those nations.

While much is still unknown about the Omicron variant -- it could take weeks to determine whether and to what extent it is vaccine-resistant -- it has highlighted that the global fight against Covid-19 is far from over.

Omicron has emerged as much of the northern hemisphere was already bracing for a new winter wave of the pandemic -- leaving even nations with high vaccination rates struggling to contain rising infection numbers and prevent health services from being overwhelmed.

Governments, particularly in Western Europe, have already reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns -- leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.

Greece went ahead Tuesday in making vaccines compulsory for over-60s, while Norway will offer booster shots to all adults before Easter, as preferable to a lockdown.

Britain has set a target of delivering third jabs to all adults within two months.

While the European summer of fleeting Covid freedoms may be over, in the southern hemisphere, the Pacific island of Fiji ended 615 days of international isolation on Wednesday and reopened to tourists.

Traditional dancers in grass skirts welcomed waving holidaymakers from Sydney, the first of an expected flood of desperately needed tourists in the coming weeks.

Fiji Airways chief executive Andre Viljoen said it was a "momentous" occasion, where tourism accounts for about 40 percent of the economy.

"The international border reopening will reignite Fiji's economy," he told reporters.

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News Network
January 13,2022

With Covid-19 cases surging in India, clouds have formed over the likelihood of India being the venue for the 2022 Indian Premier League (IPL).

The Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI)  is mulling holding the league outside of India amid the ongoing scenario. However, unlike the past two years where the IPL has been partially or fully held in UAE because of the pandemic, the BCCI is now keen to look at other options for the flagship event.

Cricket board officials are considering South Africa and Sri Lanka as their backup options for IPL 2022, according to a report in The Indian Express.

“We can’t be dependent on UAE all the time so we decided to explore more options, South Africa’s time difference also works out well for the players,” a BCCI official told the publication.

South Africa, so far, has hosted two cricket series and has impressed BCCI officials for the way the country handled the Indian players.

“The place where the team was staying for the second Test is spread over several acres. There were walking tracks and even a pond on the property and that has made things easier for the players who for the last couple of years or so have been confined to their rooms on several overseas tours,” an official said.

A BCCI official, recently said that the board is prioritising holding the tournament in India but the decision will be dependent on what the state governments decide.

BCCI had to postpone the upcoming edition of the Ranji Trophy indefinitely due to the rise in Covid cases in the camps. The domestic U19 Behar Trophy was also halted midway for the same reason.

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News Network
January 13,2022

akhilesh.jpg

Lucknow, Jan 13: The resignation of three ministers in three days and the subsequent photos being uploaded with Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav has changed the dynamics of Uttar Pradesh politics.

Till a few days back the BJP was confident of winning back the state but the resignations have sent jitters down the spines in the BJP camp. The question is, whether there is an undercurrent in favour of the Samajwadi Party which is perceived to be the biggest gainer from these exits from the saffron party.

The SP is having the last laugh in terms of defections as all roads lead to the party office on Vikramaditya Marg in Lucknow. The rebels from the BJP BSP and the Congress are lining up at Akhilesh Yadav's door, which analysts believe is in favour of the SP, as leaders like Maurya have a strong ground presence and feedback.

Delhi based independent analyst Shakil Akhtar says, "there is a feeling in the defectors that they can't return to their constituency on a BJP symbol so they went to the party which has social justice in it roots while the BJP was dependent on social engineering."

The experts believe that the real issues are inflation, Covid deaths, stray animals, unemployment and the BJP has not been able to gauge the minds of its own MLAs and ministers.

Dharam Singh Saini on Thursday became the third minister after Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan quit the Yogi Adityanath led BJP government. Saini was Minister of State (Independent Charge), Ayush, Food Security and Drug Administration.

After sending his resignation to the Governor, he went to meet Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav. Interestingly, in his resignation letter, Saini levelled the same allegation that other legislators had levelled against the Yogi government.

Saini, who represents the Nakud Assembly seat which is in western UP, has returned the security cover and residence allotted to him by the state government. He said he was resigning due to "gross neglect" of Dalits, backwards, farmers, unemployed youth and small traders.

After legislators belonging to the OBC category left the BJP, it is now a Brahmin MLA Bala Prasad Awasthi who has also walked into the Samajwadi Party fold.

Awasthi is a four-term MLA from Lakhimpur Kheri and a known Brahmin face in the Terai region. He also met Akhilesh Yadav on Thursday afternoon.

Earlier, Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan (both ministers) Roshan Lal Varma, Brijendra Prajapati, Bhagwati Sharan Sagar, Vinay Shakya and Avatar Singh Bhadana left the party in the past two days.

On Thursday, Mukesh Varma from Firozabad sent in his resignation. Then Dharam Singh Saini followed suit.

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News Network
January 13,2022

Bengaluru, Jan 13: Karnataka may witness 20,000 to 70,000 daily hospitalisations for Covid by the end of January or February 2.

These are the new projections made by researchers at the Indian Statistical Institute and Indian Institute of Science on Tuesday.

Similarly, projections made by the researchers for ICU bed requirement shows that the state will require 1,000 beds to more than 3,000 beds by February 2.

As per projections made by another group INDSCI-SIM (Indian Scientists’ Response to Covid-19), Karnataka, by January 25, will have 35,000 daily cases and 500 to 5,000 severe cases, based on whether individuals are fully vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Prof Gautam Menon, professor of Physics and Biology, Ashoka University, Haryana, who has worked on several Covid models and is a part of INDSCI-SIM, said, “Across the country, we expect six lakh to nine lakh new Covid cases to be reported at the peak between January 21 and February 10. By March, the curve will flatten. Another common thing with projections from other models is that the number of cases will be larger than the second wave.”

Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA) president Dr H M Prasanna said, “The state’s private sector does not have 1.4 lakh beds as is being reported. When the second wave started, we checked and there were only 66,000 beds. This is as per the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha Trust portal. We don’t know when it increased. Maybe the government is factoring in medical college hospital beds.”

Estimating the number of beds in private hospitals, he said, there are around 6,500 private hospitals in Karnataka, apart from medical colleges.

“In all, there are 70,000 beds in private hospitals and medical colleges. In both the government and private sector, there may not be more than one lakh beds,” he said.

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