US: Biden signs order to protect travel for abortion | News | DW

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed another executive order to protect abortion rights, this time in regards to out of state travel for the procedure.

It’s the latest bid by the Biden administration to ensure access to abortions after the Supreme Court ruled in June to end the nationwide constitutional right to abortion.

What does the order do?

The order will allow states which have not banned abortion to apply for Medicaid funds. This money can then be used to support women who travel from out of state, and facilitate their access to an abortion. 

The application of the order could be tricky, as Medicaid funds are not to be used for abortion services unless the woman’s life is in jeopardy or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.  

The order also urges healthcare providers to comply with federal non-discrimination laws in regards to medical care.

The latest executive order on abortion by Biden comes amid Republican-led efforts across the country to outlaw and restrict access to the procedure. The recent Supreme Court reversal on Roe v. Wade struck down the constitutional right to an abortion, leaving it up to the states to decide whether it should be legal.

Biden hails Kansas abortion vote 

Biden on Wednesday also touted a major pro-choice victory in Kansas.

Kansans a day earlier voted against amending the state constitution to say there is no right to an abortion. The vote is unusual in a state that leans highly conservative.

“Last night in the American heartland, the people of Kansas sent an unmistakable message to the Republican extremists,” Biden said. “If it’s going to happen in Kansas, it’s going to happen in a whole lot of states.”      

In other parts of the country, abortion rights are still under attack, however. In several weeks, the western state of Idaho will enact a near-total ban on abortion, with the Biden administration suing over the measure.

The Midwestern state of Indiana also recently advanced a near-total ban in the state Senate, with the legislation now headed for debate in the state’s House of Representatives this week. 

wd/rs (Reuters, AP)

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Where to travel in Africa: A correspondent′s tips | All media content | DW

A lively music scene in Lagos

If you are looking for adventure rather than peace and quiet, you should visit the city of Lagos in Nigeria, home to around 20 million people. It is loud, hectic and stressful, but the cultural scene is vibrant, with lots of galleries, fashion and music. I recommend the New Afrika Shrine music venue, where Fela Kuti’s son Femi often plays with his band.

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Tips for exploring the medieval town of Bamberg | Euromaxx – Lifestyle in Europe | DW


Travel reporter Dhruv Rathee explores Bamberg, northern Bavaria, with its atmospheric old town. UNESCO named the mostly well-preserved thousand-year-old buildings a World Heritage site in 1993.

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Coronavirus digest: Travel bans ineffective, WHO says | News | DW

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said international travel bans “do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress” of countries.  

In a statement issued after a WHO meeting, the UN health agency said travel restrictions that were introduced to curb the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of such measures over time.” 

In late November, several countries suspended flights to and from southern African countries, citing concerns over omicron. Most governments have lifted this ban. 

The WHO also urged countries not to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as the only way for travelers’ entry, citing inequity in vaccine distribution

Countries should consider adjusting some measures, including testing and quarantine requirements, “when appropriate,” that put a financial burden on travelers, the WHO said. 

Separately, the WHO said that coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% last week to more than 18 million.

Infections increased in every world region except for Africa, where cases fell by nearly a third, according to the WHO. 

The number of deaths globally remained similar to the previous week, at about 45,000. 

Here’s a roundup of the latest developments on COVID-19 from around the world:


South African-born biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong opened a plant in Cape Town, South Africa, that will be the first on the continent to produce COVID-19 vaccines from start to finish.

The NantSA facility aims to produce a billion doses annually by 2025.

The plant is South Africa’s third vaccine manufacturing facility, but it would make vaccines itself rather than producing them from semifinished batches.

Soon-Shiong, who is also a medical doctor, will transfer technology and materials from his California-based NantWorks to scientists in South Africa to produce second-generation vaccines “within the year.” They will also work on vaccines targeting cancer, TB and HIV.

“Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the opening of the plant.

Ramaphosa said Africa had secured 500 million vaccine doses through the African Union’s vaccine acquisition task team, but the continent needs more.

“These doses represent only around half of what the continent needs to vaccinate 900 million people in order to achieve the 70% target set by the World Health Organization,” said Ramaphosa.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that people in England would no longer be required to wear face masks from next week.

He told Parliament on Wednesday that measures introduced to combat the omicron variant were no longer needed as scientists believe infections have peaked in the UK.

“Because of the extraordinary booster campaign, together with the way the public have responded to the Plan B measures, we can return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire as a result from the start of Thursday next week,” Johnson said.

He intended to drop self-isolation rules for people with coronavirus in March.

The prime minister also announced an end to the vaccine certificates mandate but added that businesses could continue asking for COVID-19 passes if they wanted to.

Museums and concert halls in the Netherlands opened as beauty salons and gyms to protest the Dutch government’s pandemic policies.

The cultural sector is protesting rules that they must remain closed while COVID-19 measures were lifted on shops and “contact professions” like barbers, nail salons and sex work.

During the protest, nail artists were giving manicures at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Barbers also gave haircuts on the stage of Amsterdam’s historical concert hall, Concertgebouw.

A man gets a haircut during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

People got haircuts during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

Authorities handed out enforcement notices to a number of the 70-odd venues that took part in the day-long protest.

Germany recorded more than 100,000 daily COVID-19 cases for the first time. The new single-day record of 112,323 comes as Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he believed there could be twice as many unreported cases as known ones. 

Lauterbach told broadcaster RTL that Germany had not reached the peak and compulsory vaccination should be introduced by May. 

In the east-central German state of Thuringia, some 1,200 demonstrators, protesting COVID measures, marched past the home of Gera’s Mayor Julian Vornab, police said. 

Asked if he felt threatened, Vonarb said: “The police were there, but not in proportion to the number of demonstrators.”

Bodo Ramelow, the state leader of Thuringia, said marching up to politicians’ homes was nothing other than intimidation.

Protests against Germany’s pandemic policies have increased in recent weeks. Some 70,000 people joined anti-COVID measures protests across Germany earlier this week.  

Austria recorded a record number of infections. “We have close to 30,000 infections. That is a frighteningly high figure,” Chancellor Karl Nehammer said.

The previous record for new daily cases, 17,006, was set a week ago.

Sweden set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, registering 37,886 on Tuesday, health agency data released on Wednesday showed. The country is in the middle of a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Kronoberg, one of Sweden’s 25 health care regions, said it would pause all testing except for hospital and elderly care patients and staff.

In Slovenia and Croatia, laboratories can not process tests fast enough. The two countries recorded record-high new COVID-19 cases of 12,285 and 10,427, respectively.

The Tourism Ministry in Cyprus announced that the country will lift all entry requirements on March 1 for travelers who present proof of receiving a booster shot

The tourism-reliant island nation currently requires travelers to either show proof of a negative COVID test or to self-quarantine upon arrival.

Under the new rules, travelers who haven’t received a booster shot can enter the country if it has been less than nine months since they received their last dose. 


The United States plans to distribute 400 million N95 for adults free of charge from next week.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a White House official said the masks would be available at pharmacies and community health centers.

President Joe Biden’s administration hopes that it will help curb the rapidly spread omicron variant.

Also in the US, Starbucks said it would no longer require its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The move to reverse the policy that Starbuck had announced earlier this month came after the US Supreme Court rejected a plan by the Biden administration to require vaccines or regular COVID testing at companies with more than 100 workers.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said coronavirus infections in the Americas are reaching new peaks, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths in the last week. 

“The virus is spreading more actively than ever before,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told a press briefing.

According to the PAHO, the Caribbean has had the steepest increase in infections since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The regional agency recommended that countries prioritize rapid antigen tests for people experiencing symptoms and who are at risk of spreading the virus amid a shortage of testing. 


India reported 282,970 new infections on Wednesday, the highest in eight months.

Authorities said omicron was causing fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the delta variant, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in India last year.

While infection rates have recently fallen in India’s big cities, experts say cases nationally could peak by the middle of next month.

“We have to worry about hospitalization and deaths and that will come later,” Tarun Bhatnagar, from the ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology, told the Reuters news agency.

Japan widened COVID-19 curbs to several towns and cities, including Tokyo, as it battles a record wave of omicron infections.

The country has resisted complete shutdowns, instead focusing on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol.

It also urged the public to wear masks and practice social distancing.

A sharp rise in infections has begun to paralyze hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.


New Zealand called off the national cricket team’s tour of Australia before the scheduled first match because of strict COVID-19 quarantine requirements.

The Black Caps, as they are commonly known, would not have had to isolate on their return home when the tour was first announced.

The spread of the omicron variant in Australia has caused New Zealand’s government to defer a plan to introduce quarantine-free travel between the countries.

fb, lo/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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Germany loosens omicron travel restrictions for UK, South Africa | News | DW

Germany on Tuesday ended its strict rules for travelers entering from a series of countries with particularly high rates of omicron infections.

The nine countries, including Britain and South Africa — as well as several other southern African states — had been placed on the list of areas of variant concern in late 2021.

All the countries have been downgraded to the list of high-risk areas. While this category still places restrictions on travelers, these are lighter for vaccinated people.

What are the rule changes?

The Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases (RKI) had already announced on Thursday that starting Tuesday, no more countries would be put on the variant concern list because of omicron.

The highly infectious variant was first recorded in southern Africa and quickly spread around the world.

The UK has been one of the countries worst hit by omicron, with cases soaring record highs. The high rate of infection has subsequently been recorded in several other countries, including Germany’s EU neighbors France and Denmark.

The restrictions for travelers entering Germany from countries on the list of areas of variant concern included a mandatory 14-day quarantine — with no option of shortening it with proof of vaccination or negative test.

It also limited entry to German citizens or the country’s residents from areas of variant concern.

Under the rules for travelers from high-risk areas, people who can show proof of vaccination do not need to isolate. Unvaccinated travelers need to quarantine for 10 days but can shorten it to five if they test negative.

Risks of omicron

Germany had previously brought down a surge in coronavirus cases in November and early December after implementing a series of restrictions aimed particularly at unvaccinated people.

However, cases have once again begun to climb, with the RKI recording a rise in the previous four days.

Although early reports suggest that the omicron variant has milder effects than previous forms of the virus, its highly contagious nature risks overwhelming health services.

Almost 40% of people in Germany have received a booster vaccine already, which data suggests offers increased protection. However, around 25% of people remain unvaccinated.

ab/fb (AFP, dpa)

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Snowstorms snag travel in Japan | News | DW

Heavy snow hit parts of central Japan on Monday, causing traffic snarls and disrupting flights and rail connections.

Power outages were reported by over 3,200 houses in the region, Kansai Electric Power said.

Weather officials have warned of more snow overnight along the Sea of Japan coast on Japan’s northwest, from the Tohoku to Kyushu regions.

Government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno said no injuries or fatalities due to the extreme weather conditions have yet been confirmed.

“A strong winter pressure pattern is causing heavy snow… with some areas experiencing record snowfall,” Matsuno said.

“The amount of snow is expected to increase tomorrow,” he warned, adding that “increased caution and vigilance are still required.”

Japan’s Meteorological Agency has forecast that snow and blizzard conditions will continue until Tuesday, The Japan Times reported.

The weather agency also said some regions could see up to 90 centimeters (35.4 inches) of snowfall.

Footage on television channels showed long queues of stationary cars near the city of Hikone, between Kyoto and Nagoya. Hikone reported 68 centimeters of snowfall in the last 24 hours, almost 30 times deeper than average, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The traffic snag is reported to have begun when a truck slipped, but the flow of traffic was later restored.

The city of Asago saw 71 centimeters of snow fall in 24 hours through early Monday.

Both Hikone and Asago witnessed the most snow ever, Kyodo News said, citing the Meteorological Agency.

Some 200 passengers also spent the night, snowed in, on a local train line, NHK said.

Around 130 domestic flights were grounded on Sunday while 50 flights were reported to have been scrapped on Monday.

dvv/dj (AFP, Reuters)

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Coronavirus digest: German health officials urge new travel curbs | News | DW

Health ministers of Germany’s federal states on Saturday called for tougher measures for entry into the country to slow down the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“Making entry safer helps to prevent the omicron variant from spreading so quickly,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told the German dpa news agency after a meeting with state ministers to discuss the pandemic situation.

Germany has recorded 6,764,188 confirmed coronavirus cases and108,053 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s public health authority.

The new rules are to apply to entry from virus variant-hit countries, including the UK, where the omicron variant has sparked a surge in infections.

“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,” the ministers said in a statement.

Travelers from the age of 6 who have been in a virus variant region at any time in the last 10 days would be required to present a negative PCR test prior to departure.

A rapid antigen test will no longer be adequate. The measure would also apply to travelers in transit at a German airport.

The UK, which has reported record coronavirus infections for the past three days, is currently categorized in Germany as a high-risk area. Only unvaccinated travelers from the UK must provide a test and quarantine for at least five days.


The Netherlands will go into a tough lockdown from Sunday morning to mitigate a feared COVID-19 surge due to the Omicron coronavirus variant, caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Saturday.

Rutte said the move was “unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the omicron variant that is bearing down on us.”

He did not immediately outline the terms of the new lockdown but said it it will build on a partial lockdown already in place that requires bars, restaurants and other public gathering places such as cinemas and theaters to close at 5 p.m.

Earlier warnings of a lockdown prompted residents to flock to shops to buy Christmas gifts. 

Local broadcasters NOS and RTL reported that the lockdown would start early on Sunday morning and last until January 14. 

On Saturday the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) reported 14,616 new infections in 24 hours.

Italy’s national health institute (ISS) has said the country’s north and south is seeing “a strong acceleration” of the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

The ISS reported that its network of regional laboratories had so far reported 84 omicron cases.

Thirty-three of the cases were found in the northern region of Lombardy and a further 20 in the southern region of Campania.

Portugal has announced that tens of thousands of children under the age of 12 were set to receive their first jab against COVID-19 this weekend.

With around 87% of its 10 million population fully vaccinated, Portugal has one of the world’s highest rates of vaccination against COVID-19. The country is now facing a rise in infections, in part due to the omicron variant.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to send 15 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa.

“We are aware of the global injustice in accessing the COVID-19 vaccine and Africa’s unjust treatment,” Erdogan told dozens of leaders and ministers at the Turkey-Africa summit. 

“It is disgraceful for humanity that only 6% of Africa’s population has been vaccinated.”

Turkey is developing its homegrown Turkovac vaccine, which is in the process of receiving emergency use approval. Following authorization, it will be shared with Africa, Erdogan said.

It was not immediately clear whether Turkey would first send doses of the internationally approved vaccines it was currently using, such as BioNTech-Pfizer.


Egypt has said it had detected its first three cases of the coronavirus Omicron variant.

Three Egyptians tested positive on their return from overseas, the health ministry said without specifying where they had traveled from.

One of them had mild symptoms and the other two had none, it added.

From December 1, Egypt barred officials and students not vaccinated against the coronavirus from government offices and universities unless they present a negative PCR test.


Beijing is urging residents not to take unnecessary trips outside the city in early 2022, a major holiday season in China, to limit COVID-19 risks while the Winter Olympics Games are being held.

Beijing is keen “to ensure zero local infection, the successful hosting of the Winter Olympic Games and the Winter Paralympic Games, and that the public have joyful, peaceful and tranquil holidays,” authorities said in a statement.

mvb/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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Omicron: Mideast countries prepare for the new coronavirus variant | Middle East | News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW

This week most Middle Eastern countries reacted in one way or the other to the new omicron coronavirus variant.

So far only Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have recorded omicron infections. But amid omicron-related concerns, Lebanese health authorities have just announced a night curfew for people who have not been vaccinated or are without a recent negative PCR test, starting on December 17.

For three weeks, people in these categories will not be allowed to leave their homes between 7 p.m and 6 a.m. It is yet to be announced what kind of penalties are planned if the rules are violated.

Health Minister Firass Abiad said during a press conference on Wednesday that “the new measures aim to limit socializing as Lebanese expatriates flood home for the holiday season.”

While Lebanon has yet to register an omicron case, after Christmas last year, COVID-19 infections skyrocketed in the country, bringing the health system to the brink of collapse.

Aerial view of Mecca

Saudi Arabia was the second country in the Middle East after Israel to confirm a case of the omicron variant

Travel restrictions

Following the discovery in South Africa of the new omicron variant, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia have suspended air travel with up to two dozen African countries, among them South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Morocco and Israel have even suspended all incoming international commercial flights for the next two weeks.

Plane of tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport is closed to all incoming international commercial flights

However, while imposing travel restrictions to protect the population has become a regular reaction for many countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

International vaccine diplomacy

This comes as international actors have been increasingly focusing on vaccine diplomacy this year in the Middle East as well, with poorer countries still heavily affected by the fact that, so far, only 13% of doses contracted by COVAX — the program meant to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people — have been delivered.

Vaccine diplomacy refers to the use of vaccine supplies as a tool to project soft power. 

“China and Russia have stepped up their efforts in vaccine diplomacy” in the region, Professor Eckart Woertz, director of Middle East Studies at the Hamburg-based German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), told DW on the phone. 

As early as last March, Wang Yi, China’s minister of foreign affairs, celebrated a new joint venture for vaccine production in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation (CNPGC), which is generally referred to as Sinopharm, and the Emirati company Group 42 (often abbreviated as G42).

The two companies envision producing up to 200 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine per year in the UAE.

“Morocco and the UAE are both trying to establish their countries as regional Sinopharm hubs,” Woertz told DW. 

Early on this year, Morocco signed a contract with Sinopharm and thus “hopes to turn into a vaccine distribution hub for West Africa,” Woertz and co-author Roie Yellinek wrote in a paper in March 2021. 

Boxes containing Sinopharm vaccines

The Sinopharm vaccine is already widely used in Iran

Russia, on the other hand, has already cut a deal with Egypt.

The underlying idea is that new production facilities for Russia’s Sputnik vaccine are to turn Egypt into the main distributor for North Africa. 

Regional vaccine diplomacy

A second, equally important aspect of vaccine diplomacy is domestic politics.

“Successful vaccination rollouts can strengthen the position of beleaguered incumbents, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and King Mohammed VI of Morocco,” Woertz wrote in March, before Netanyahu was succeeded by Naftali Bennett as prime minister. 

However, given that the new coronavirus variant is unlikely to be the last, it is most probable that vaccine diplomacy will accelerate further in the near future.

“While the new omicron variant is by far too new to analyze its political scope, it is safe to say that vaccine diplomacy has entered the political dictionary and is there to stay,” Woertz told DW. 

Edited by: Timothy Jones

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South African economy shellshocked by travel bans | Business | Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW


South Africa’s struggling economy faces further devastation, with key overseas markets grounding flights to the country amid the emergence of the new COVID variant. The local economy is set to lose billions.

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