News, December 20th

CAR: UN chief condemns escalating violence during election campaign

With a week to go until elections are scheduled to take place in the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN is concerned about an escalation of armed attacks, amid reports that armed groups have taken control of towns near the capital, Bangui.

“The Secretary-General has been following reports of increasing tensions in the Central African Republic with growing concern”, his spokesperson said in a press statement issued on Friday.

Mr. Guterres called for an urgent end to all hostile actions, and for Central Africans to work together, to ensure favourable conditions for the holding of credible, inclusive and peaceful elections on 27 December, and to “refrain from disinformation, hate speech and incitement to violence”.

In Bangui and in other regions, the peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) are on high alert to protect civilian populations and secure the elections.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in CAR, Mankeur Ndiaye, took to Twitter on Saturday, to reassure citizens that MINUSCA will do its utmost to ensure the security of the electoral process, and called on the Central African population not to panic, and to provide the necessary support to the national security forces and to the peacekeepers.

In view of the deteriorating security situation in the west of the country, Mr. Ndiaye decided on Friday to deploy MINUSCA forces to Bossemptélé and Bossembélé, two municipalities to the north-west of Bangui, which have been targets of attacks by armed groups.

In his statement, Mr. Guterres called on all those involved in the political process to resolve any dispute peacefully, “in accordance with the constitution and in the interests of the Central African people who have suffered for too long from violence and instability “. Mr. Guterres also called on the signatory parties to the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, signed in February 2019, to strictly implement it and to refrain from any action that could jeopardize national stability and the holding of elections.

“The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations commitment to work closely with national, regional, and international partners, to support the people and Government of the Central African Republic in their efforts to advance peace and ensure a peaceful democratic process’, his spokesperson said.

COVID-19 pandemic drives many people into nature: Study

In a new study, researchers have revealed that COVID -19 pandemic drove many urban dwellers into nature for the first time in years.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that 26 per cent of people visiting parks during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic had rarely – or never – visited nature in the previous year.

“Like many people, we noticed a large increase in the number of visitors to urban forests and parks in the early days of the pandemic,” said the study’s senior author Brendan Fisher of the University of Vermont (UVM) in the US.

“We wanted to understand how people are using local nature to cope with the physical and mental challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Fisher added.

For the study, researchers surveyed visitors to 25 parks and natural areas around greater Burlington, Vermont, an area of roughly 214,000 residents, or roughly a third of the state’s population.

The team surveyed a sample of over 400 people as the state’s health protocols – including social distancing, business and school closures, and travel restrictions – were introduced.

As COVID-19 health protocols were introduced, nearly 70 per cent of park users increased their visits to local nature.

An overwhelming number of respondents – 81 per cent – reported increased importance for these areas, and access to them. Nearly 70 per cent of first time or infrequent visitors said access to these places during COVID-19 was very important.

While 27 per cent of people reported reducing their group size when visiting urban nature, another 11 per cent of visitors increased their group size during COVID-19.

This aligns with 17 per cent of respondents who reported that these natural areas allowed them safe spaces to socialize during COVID-19.

Park users’ most common reasons for visiting natural areas and parks were: getting outside, exercise, connecting to nature, finding peace and quiet, birding, dog walking, and time with children.

The researchers found that 66 per cent of people used these natural areas to find peace and quiet, and 32 per cent reported these places as spaces for contemplation, activities that have been shown to reduce stress.

According to researchers, the demand for urban green space is increasing at a time when many communities are seeing losses of urban natural areas or uncertain priority for them.

European nations ban flights from UK to prevent coronavirus mutation from spreading to continent

Several European nations on Sunday banned flights from the United Kingdom to prevent a new strain of the coronavirus that is rapidly spreading across southern England from gaining traction on the continent.

Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Italy and Ireland all announced restrictions on U.K. travel less than a week before Christmas.

The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year while Belgium issued a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight and also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar, the international high-speed rail service connecting the United Kingdom with France, Belgium and the Netherlands via the Channel Tunnel. The train line canceled service between London, Brussels and Amsterdam beginning Monday, however, kept trains operating on the London-to-Paris route.

Austria and Italy said they would halt flights from the U.K. but did not say exactly when that would take place. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures on people arriving from Britain.

Italy, once the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe earlier this year, suspended flights from Great Britain “to protect Italians,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio tweeted Sunday. About two dozen flights were scheduled to arrive in Italy on Sunday, most in the northern region of Lombardy – which was the hardest-hit region in the early days of the pandemic — but also to Venice and Rome.

The U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned Sunday that the new variant is “out of control.” In appearances on BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” and Sky’s “Sophy Ridge on Sunday,” Hancock said everyone should act as if they have the virus, and suggested restrictions announced Saturday in Tier 4 areas could remain in place for at least the next several months until the vaccines can be distributed across the country.

Ireland imposed a 48-hour ban on all non-essential travel from England effective at midnight – it will apply to passengers on airplanes and ferries, though no restrictions will be set in place to limit travel between the Republic and Northern Ireland, the Irish Times reported.

Germany is banning all passenger flights from the U.K. as of midnight, German Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted Sunday. He said the government on Monday will impose additional restrictions on travel between the U.K. and South Africa after reviewing reports about “mutated viruses.”

Martina Fietz, spokeswoman for the federal government in Berlin, confirmed that German leaders were in contact with their European partners, and the federal police tweeted that people should only travel to the U.K. “if it is absolutely necessary,” German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Sunday said he was issuing the flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution.” He said he hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday, recognizing “there are a great many questions about this new mutation.”

Sweden was also considering a ban on travelers entering from the U.K., Reuters reported, citing Swedish public Broadcaster SVT. A formal decision will be made Monday, Swedish Minister of Home Affairs, Mikael Damberg, said.

The EU governments said they were taking action in response to tougher measures imposed Saturday by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on London and its surrounding areas. Johnson immediately put those regions into a new Tier 4 restriction level, upending Christmas plans for millions.

In an urgent address to the nation on Saturday, Johnson closed all non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms and pools and told Britons to reorganize their holiday plans. No mixing of households is now allowed indoors in Tier 4 areas, including London, and only essential travel is permitted in and out of the area. In the rest of England, people will be allowed to meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of the five that were planned.

Johnson said a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England. But he added “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

After he spoke, videos emerged that showed crowds of people rushing to London’s train stations, apparently making a dash for places in the U.K. with less stringent coronavirus restrictions before the new rules took effect.

Britain has seen over 67,000 deaths in the pandemic, the second-highest confirmed toll in Europe after Italy. Europe as a whole has recorded nearly 499,000 virus deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is an undercount, due to limited testing and missed cases.

German media highlights Vietnam’s efforts to cope with economic crisis

NDO – Germany’s daily Junge Welt recently published an article stating that the life in Vietnam has returned almost to normal while the country’s economy has reported positive growth mainly thanks to domestic demand and stronger government investments.

According to the article, in the context of the US reporting a record number of new COVID-19 infections and deaths each day and European Union (EU) countries having to impose stringent measures once again to fight the pandemic, the people in Vietnam are celebrating the return to normal life.

The article quoted a Vietnamese teacher as saying that life in the country has long been back to normal without restrictions; however, it is still necessary to wear a face mask when entering shopping malls, bus stations, public means of transport, and places with many people in a tight space.

In terms of the economy, Vietnam has also responded to the crisis better than other countries in Southeast Asia and around the world, the article said.

It cited the Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) as reporting that Vietnam’s economy registered positive growth of 2.1% in the first three quarters of 2020 compared to the same period last year, mainly thanks to domestic demand and stronger government investments.

In addition, Vietnam’s footwear and textile industry, shaken by lockdowns in the EU and the US, has regained its position with strong export figures in 2020, and is expected to receive more orders next year.

According to the article, the Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment is working to step up economic cooperation models again and recommends small and medium-sized companies provide equipment and components for foreign partners as part of the global supply chain.

In the future, companies should further diversify their products and establish business relationships with different enterprises and industries to help minimise the risk of falling into a further crisis.

Iraqi army: 8 rockets target US Embassy in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Eight rockets targeted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone late Sunday, Iraq’s military and Iraqi officials said, sparking fears of renewed unrest as next month’s anniversary of the U.S. slaying of an Iranian general draws near.

An Iraqi military statement said an “an outlawed group” launched eight rockets targeting the Green Zone, injuring one Iraqi security person manning a checkpoint and causing material damage to a residential complex and some cars. The residential complex is usually empty.

The U.S. Embassy’s C-RAM defense system, which is used to destroy missiles in mid-air, was activated to deflect the attack, the embassy said in a statement.

“The U.S. Embassy confirms rockets targeting the International Zone (Green Zone) resulted in the engagement of embassy defensive systems,” the statement said. It said there was some minor damage to the embassy compound.

“We call on all Iraqi political and governmental leaders to take steps to prevent such attacks and hold accountable those responsible,” the statement said.

The thundering sound of the defense system could be heard by Associated Press reporters located on the other side of the Tigris River.

The C-RAM system was installed by the U.S. over the summer as armed groups stepped up rocket attacks targeting the embassy and its premises.

The U.S. withdrew some staff from its embassy in Baghdad earlier this month, temporarily reducing personnel ahead of the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassim Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s airport on Jan. 3. American officials said the reduction stemmed from concerns about a possible retaliatory strike.

Soleimani’s killing sparked outrage and led Iraq’s parliament to pass a non-binding resolution days later calling for the expulsion of all foreign troops from Iraq.

The frequency of rocket attacks in Iraq has frustrated the Trump administration. Iran-backed militia groups have been blamed for orchestrating the attacks.

In September, Washington warned Iraq that it will close its embassy in Baghdad if the government fails to take decisive action to end rocket and other attacks by Iranian-backed militias on American and allied interests in the country.

The partial withdrawal from the embassy came amid a drawdown of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan announced by the outgoing Trump administration last month. In Iraq, the U.S. plans to reduce the number of troops from 3,000 to 2,500 by mid-January, before Trump is to leave office.

More EU nations ban travel from UK, fearing virus variant

BERLIN (AP) — A growing list of European Union nations barred travel from the U.K. on Sunday and others were considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading to the continent.

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on U.K. travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be canceled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

Johnson immediately placed those regions under a strict new Tier 4 restriction level, upending Christmas plans for millions.

France banned all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours from midnight Sunday, including trucks carrying freight through the tunnel under the English Channel or from the port of Dover on England’s south coast. French officials said the pause would buy time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat, but it threw the busy cross-channel route used by thousands of trucks a day into chaos.

The Port of Dover tweeted Sunday night that its ferry terminal was “closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France.”

Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were also halted.

Germany said all flights coming from Britain, except cargo flights, were no longer allowed to land starting midnight Sunday. It didn’t immediately say how long the flight ban would last. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution.” “There are a great many questions about this new mutation,” he said, adding he hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday.

A senior Canadian government official told The Associated Press on Sunday evening that Canada would also ban flights from Britain. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly ahead of a formal announcement, said the ban would take effect Monday. Cargo flights will not be affected, the official said.

The British government said Johnson would preside at a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA, on Monday in the wake of the other nations’ measures. They come at a time of huge economic uncertainty for the U.K., less than two weeks before it leaves the EU’s economic structures Dec. 31, and with talks on a new post-Brexit trade relationship still deadlocked.

Johnson said Saturday that a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England in recent weeks. But he stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

On Sunday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock added to the alarm when he said “the new variant is out of control.” The U.K. recorded 35,928 further confirmed cases, around double the number from a week ago.

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called a special crisis meeting on Monday to coordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year. Ireland issued a 48-hour flight ban. Italy said it would block flights from the U.K. until Jan.6, and an order signed Sunday prohibits entry into Italy by anyone who has been in the U.K. in the last 14 days.

The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain.

Beyond Europe, Israel also said it was banning flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa because those were the countries where the mutation is found.

The World Health Organization tweeted late Saturday that it was “in close contact with U.K. officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant” and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned.

The new strain was identified in southeastern England in September and has been spreading in the area ever since, a WHO official told the BBC on Sunday.

“What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.

Studies are under way to better understand how fast it spreads and whether “it’s related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behavior,” she added.

She said the strain had also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that didn’t spread further.

“The longer this virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change,” she said. “So we really need to do everything we can right now to prevent spread.”

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands of different mutations among samples of the virus causing COVID-19. Many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.

British health authorities said that while the variant has been circulating since September, it wasn’t until the last week that officials felt they had enough evidence to declare that it has higher transmissibility than other circulating coronaviruses.

Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said officials are concerned about the new variant because it contained 23 different changes, “an unusually large number of variants” affecting how the virus binds to and enters cells in the body.

Officials aren’t certain whether it originated in the U.K., Vallance added. But by December, he said it was causing over 60% of infections in London.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. surgeon general said Sunday that the emergence of the new strain doesn’t change the public health guidance on precautions for reducing the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands.

“While it seems to be more easily transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it,” Vivek Murthy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus, as well.”

Europe has been walloped this fall by soaring new infections and deaths due to a resurgence of the virus, and many nations have reimposed a series of restrictions to reign in their outbreaks.

Britain has seen over 67,000 deaths in the pandemic, the second-highest confirmed toll in Europe after Italy. Europe as a whole has recorded nearly 499,000 virus deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is an undercount, due to limited testing and missed cases.

The European Medicines Agency, meanwhile, is meeting Monday to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine for the European Union’s 27 nations, bringing vaccinations closer for millions of EU citizens. The vaccine made by German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer is already in use in the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries.

The EMA moved up its assessment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by a week after heavy pressure from EU governments, especially Germany, which has said that after the EMA approval it could start vaccinating citizens as early as next Sunday.

In an urgent address to the nation on Saturday, Johnson ordered all non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms in London and large parts of southern England closed and told Britons to reorganize their holiday plans. No mixing of households is allowed indoors in the region, and only essential travel is permitted. In the rest of England, people will be allowed to meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of the five that were planned.

After he spoke, videos emerged online showing crowds of people at London’s train stations, apparently making a dash for places in the U.K. with less stringent coronavirus restrictions. Health Secretary Matt Hancock called those scenes “totally irresponsible.”

While Hancock insisted officials had acted “very quickly and decisively,” critics said Britain’s Conservative government should have moved against rising infections much earlier.

“The alarms bells have been ringing for weeks, but the prime minister chose to ignore them,” said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party. “It is an act of gross negligence by a prime minister who, once again, has been caught behind the curve.”

Most populous county in U.S. sees COVID-19 cases top 600,000

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) — Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the United States, on Friday hit a grim milestone of 600,000 confirmed cases in total.

The county’s Department of Public Health on Friday reported 13,756 new COVID-19 infections and 60 additional deaths in a daily release, pushing its cumulative cases since the pandemic’s beginning up to 610,372, with 8,817 related deaths.

More than 100,000 new cases have been reported since Dec. 11 when the county reached the 500,000-case landmark, officials said, noting that the county is “experiencing the fastest acceleration of new cases than at any other time during the pandemic.”

There are 5,424 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized across the county, 21 percent of them in the intensive care unit (ICU), setting another record, according to the department.

Available capacity of ICU beds in the 11-county Southern California region, which includes Los Angeles County, has dropped to zero earlier this week.

“We are bearing witness every day to the terrible suffering caused by a virus that is spreading out of control throughout the county,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in the release.

World sees 11,392 new Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours

PARIS: The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,685,785 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.

At least 76,207,740 cases have been registered. Of these, at least 48,584,100 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

On Saturday, 11,392 new deaths and 629,483 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 2,971, followed by Brazil with 706 and Mexico with 627.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 316,202 deaths from 17,659,271 cases. At least 6,298,082 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 186,356 deaths from 7,213,155 cases, India with 145,477 deaths from 10,031,223 cases, Mexico with 117,876 deaths from 1,313,675 cases, and Italy with 68,447 deaths from 1,938,083 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 160 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Italy with 113, Peru with 112, Slovenia 111 and Bosnia-Herzegovina 110.

Europe overall has 514,689 deaths from 23,760,572 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 483,959 deaths from 14,609,974 infections, and the United States and Canada 330,313 deaths from 18,159,017 cases.

Asia has reported 210,360 deaths from 13,393,621 cases, the Middle East 86,760 deaths from 3,760,963 cases, Africa 58,761 deaths from 2,492,919 cases, and Oceania 943 deaths from 30,682 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies. – AFP

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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