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Death of Alnwick dad inspires son to attempt 76 Half Marathons in 12 months

Loving son Andrew Fletcher has vowed to run 76 Half Marathons in just 12 months in honour of his father who died of lung cancer.

Clive Fletcher passed away in September last year aged 75 and Andrew, a keen amateur runner, decided on the epic challenge both to commemorate his dad and raise cash for the Northumberland hospice that cared for him towards the end of his life.

Andrew Fletcher, taking part in the Great North Run in memory of his dad, Clive (Image: Andrew Fletcher)

He explained: “Although I have been a keen runner since 2018, he never had the opportunity to watch me run.

“He had wanted to attend the 40th Anniversary of the Great North Run in September to support me, however, he unfortunately passed away six days before the event. I ran the race in his memory.”

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East Bay thieves using ‘sleight of hand’ to steal jewelry, police say. Here’s how their alleged scam works

Photo of Jessica Flores

File photo of police car lights. Union City police are searching for two people who have allegedly scammed victims by stealing their jewelry and replacing it with fakes.

File photo of police car lights. Union City police are searching for two people who have allegedly scammed victims by stealing their jewelry and replacing it with fakes.

Jacom Stephens/Getty Image

Union City police are searching for two people who have allegedly scammed victims by stealing their jewelry and replacing it with fakes.

The suspected thieves — a man and woman both believed to be in their 30s — allegedly stole jewelry from victims in three separate incidents on Jan. 13 and 14, Union City police said in a statement.

Police said the suspects offered and placed costume jewelry onto the victim’s necks and wrists. On all three occasions, police said the victims declined the jewelry and the suspects then used “confusion and sleight of hand” when removing it to take the victim’s authentic jewelry and watches.

Police said they believe the victims were possibly targeted because of their visible jewelry.

People were encouraged to be cautious when approached by strangers and to travel and walk in pairs or with small groups to protect themselves, police said.

Anyone who has been targeted in a similar incident or have witnessed a similar event were asked to contact the police department’s tip line at 510-675-5207 or by emailing [email protected].

Jessica Flores is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:
[email protected]

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2,000 flights canceled Sunday as winter storm approaches East coast

Almost 90% of the flights out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, an American Airlines hub, are canceled, according to flight tracking site FlightAware. The carrier preemptively canceled 1,100 flights Sunday across its mainline and regional operations after canceling 90 Saturday.

“This weekend’s winter storm is expected to have a significant impact on our operation, especially at Charlotte International Airport (CLT),” American said in a statement.

The airline also issued a travel notice allowing customers affected by the weather to rebook flights without a fee.

Nearly 74 million people were under winter weather alerts Saturday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

The massive storm system is approaching the eastern United States from the Midwest and is expected to form crippling ice in parts of Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas Sunday. The governors of those states have declared emergencies.

United Airlines is reducing flights amid Omicron surge

“This is by far going to be the biggest issue we encounter over the next 48 hours: ice, and a lot of it,” CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said Saturday morning.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 17, is a federal holiday, with many schools and offices closed.

American isn’t the only carrier canceling flights. As of 4:30 EST Saturday, Southwest canceled 164 flights, or 4% of its operations according to FlightAware, while Delta Air Lines canceled 153 flights, or 7% of its operation.

Other airports in the Southeast also face significant cancellations on Sunday, such as Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina has canceled more than half, or 74, of its flights that day. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has canceled 19%, or 155, of its flights Sunday.

Saturday saw more than 400 cancellations and 2,000 delays in the United States as the storm moves to the South.

It’s been a miserable few weeks to be an airline traveler. Winter weather and Omicron surges left 20,000 US flights canceled over the busy holiday travel season. As travel picked up, staffing cuts also left airlines with fewer employees than they had before the pandemic.

CNN’s Jason Hanna, Hannah Gard, Alanne Orjoux and Chris Isidore contributed to this report.

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UConn vs. Providence postponed: Big East matchup will not be played Saturday due to COVID-19

Saturday’s scheduled Big East matchup featuring the No. 23 Providence Friars hosting the UConn Huskies has been postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Friars’ program. The game was originally scheduled to tip off 1t 2 p.m. ET and will the conference will attempt to make it up at a later date.

This is yet another marquee college basketball game that has been altered as the surge of the Omicron variant continues to change plans across the sport. Both teams are getting into the thick of Big East play and will have to re-adjust their respective schedules to account for the make-up date for this pivotal matchup.

UConn is coming off an 86-78 overtime victory over St. John’s on Wednesday and are next schedule to host Butler on Tuesday. Providence was last in action last Saturday when it toppled St. John’s in an 83-73 victory at home. The Friars are next scheduled to travel down to Seton Hall this upcoming Tuesday and that game may be affected if the COVID-19 issues within the program carries into the weekend.

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Veganuary 2022 – here is all you need to know to give it a go

Over half a million people have taken the pledge to go vegan this month, as the ninth annual Veganuary gets under way.

Walk down any supermarket aisle or high street, and it’s obvious that what was once a very niche diet is now firmly mainstream, no doubt helped by vegan celebrities such as F1 champion Lewis Hamilton and actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

A vegan diet can be a healthier choice for the whole family as it can bring many health benefits (Image: SHARED CONTENT UNIT)

Originally set up in York in 2014 at the kitchen table of its founders, animal rights campaigner Jane Land and entrepeneur Matthew Glover, the first Veganuary attracted just 3,300 supporters.

By the end of January 2022, Veganuary expects to have reached the milestone of two million participants worldwide since its launch and a YouGov poll of 2,079 UK adults for Veganuary found 4% planned to participate this year.

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Pass closures prevent travel between east and west sides of Washington state

There’s no way to drive across Washington mountains until sometime this weekend, as the worst combination of snow and rain in many years has closed all four of the state’s winter highway routes between east and west.

A whiteout snowstorm early Thursday, followed by freezing rain and a half-foot or more of snow in the forecast, forced the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to close Snoqualmie, Stevens, White and Blewett passes.

These closures will delay freight moving across the Northwest, while ravaging the plans of New Year’s week travelers, on their way back to homes and colleges. Alpine resorts are blanketed in snow, a lot of it unstable, without the means for skiers to arrive.

WSDOT is telling the public it doesn’t expect to reopen the passes until Saturday, and that travelers should delay plans for at least a few days.

It’s been almost three years since a severe 47-hour snow shutdown at Snoqualmie Pass on Feb. 11, 2019, when a burst of four feet of snow in two days brought avalanche risks.

But it’s unusual — and maybe unprecedented — to close all four passes simultaneously for more than a few hours, effectively splitting the state into two. 

“I’ve been with WSDOT for 16 years and don’t recall a time when we had all four passes closed,” said regional spokesperson Meagan Lott, on the Snoqualmie Pass twitter feed. Three passes closed for a day as an avalanche precaution in January 2009.

White Pass rarely closes, but was under extreme avalanche risk Thursday. A section of Highway 12 through the pass collapsed in a late-2015 washout and another in fall 2013, reducing travel to one lane during reconstruction.

People desperate to drive can still try Interstate 5 south to Vancouver, turn inland at Highway 14 along the north side of the Columbia River Gorge, followed by a left turn at Goldendale over Satus Pass on Highway 97, into the Yakima Valley. Even that crossing requires chains on all but four-wheel drive cars. Oregon’s Interstate 84 through the Gorge is closed.

The ports of Seattle and Tacoma report exporters from eastern Washington and beyond are not able to get their cargo to the docks.

A big share of Washington state’s average $42 million per day of trucked cargo is stymied, said Sheri Call, president and CEO of Washington Trucking Association. Typically those include perishable products, such as tankers of raw milk heading for Longview via White Pass, or Issaquah via Snoqualmie Pass, she said.

“I’m kind of likening this to a mini micro supply-chain crisis,” Call said.

The town of Cle Elum, east of Snoqualmie Pass, declared an emergency based on “an unprecedented amount of snow,” encouraging residents to stay off the roads.

Snoqualmie Pass, the lowest of the four passes at 3,022 feet above sea level, received 236 inches this season as of Jan. 3, the most in 20 years.

WSDOT said trees are falling and avalanches could cover Interstate 90 at any moment. The road-clearing team plowed and removed trees east of Hyak but stayed away from avalanche prone areas to the west, Derrey said.

Normally there are between 12 and 20 workers per shift, and the group is down “a couple” under COVID quarantines this week, she said. Some road workers quit last fall rather than obey the governor’s vaccine mandate. But the immediate problem isn’t workforce, but extreme precipitation.

“We’re kind of on pause,” Derrey said midday Thursday. “It’s too dangerous even for our avalanche crews to get in and do assessments.” State officials said heavy snowfall and near-zero visibility have overwhelmed their crews.

The National Weather Service reported visibility of only a quarter-mile Thursday morning in heavy snow at Snoqualmie Pass. Forecasts called for rain later Thursday, followed by six inches to another foot of snow there on Friday and Saturday before the sun appears Sunday.

I-90’s shutdown affects not only the summit, but a full 72 miles between North Bend and Ellensburg. A resident at Snoqualmie Pass tweeted her thanks Thursday to officials who notified neighbors of the coming storm, so they had time to buy groceries and supplies.

After the Thursday blizzards, weather forecasts call for heavy rain, which could freeze or create a dangerous layer over the softer snow. WSDOT says rainfall “will increase the avalanche issues.”

After the weather calms, state crews will need hours to cut away downed trees, perform avalanche control work such as bombarding snow with explosives, and clearing icicles from overhead signs. WSDOT has even used World War II cannons to blast unstable snow, but it’s unclear whether they’re available and practical this week.

Ski resorts at Crystal Mountain, The Summit at Snoqualmie including Alpental, and Stevens Pass said they’re closed. It’s the latest snafu in a ski season marked by bumpy schedules, as Crystal Mountain has gone back and forth on reservations, and Stevens Pass is beleaguered by customer complaints about staffing.

At I-90’s Exit 34 near North Bend, a pair of state troopers blocked the rainy eastbound freeway. About 30 truckers parked on the shoulder Thursday morning, along with others in the nearby truck stop, but few cars arrived, as WSDOT’s widespread messaging led travelers to turn around sooner, or to stay home.

Pass closures illustrate the need for more and larger truck-parking facilities in Washington state, Call said. Her group advocates a privately-operated site on I-90 but those developments provoke community opposition.

Though extreme weather caused this closure, Call said the state shouldn’t have fired highway workers who resisted Gov. Jay Inslee’s Oct. 18 vaccination mandate. Call said policy is partly to blame for previous winter shutdowns. “Most of those workers, the plow drivers, are in the vehicle by themselves,” she said. The state has blamed blockages largely on bad drivers, and spun-out trucks without chains.

Inslee mentioned in passing “we’ve had challenges with snowplow drivers,” at his routine COVID news conference Wednesday. WSDOT officials said other factors, such as a national shortage of commercially licensed drivers are more significant, and the agency is training new workers.

Despite snow and ice east of the mountains, I-82 and I-90 remained open east of Ellensburg. But many areas presented stop-and-go conditions, with chains required in steep spots.

Information from photographer Amanda Snyder and assistant features editor Trevor Lenzmeier is included in this article.

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Breaking Travel News investigates: The Gantry launches culinary showcase in east London | Focus

Hilton has continued to build its Curio portfolio in London with the opening of the Gantry in Stratford.

The property joins Hart Shoreditch, which is leading a renaissance in the once-maligned neighbourhood, as well as three other properties in the capital.

Featuring 291 rooms, the Gantry focuses on bringing a thrilling collection of food and drink offerings to Stratford.

These include an artisanal food market from the Stratford Grocer & Co. with integrated café on the ground floor (to open next month), a dedicated sparkling bar, an all-day restaurant and an 18th floor sky bar with panoramic views across the city (opening in the spring).

Taking over the first floor, the main dining spot will be Union Social.

Flanked on one side with an elegant cocktail bar and open kitchen and on the other with floor to ceiling windows and a huge wraparound terrace, the venue combines the everchanging landscape of Stratford with an industrial-influenced interior.

The food offering at Union Social is a relaxed all-day menu with a global edge, reflective of the dynamic food scene and international population in the capital.

Hailing from Sicily, executive chef Salvatore Coco has travelled extensively and his menus reflect this, featuring flavours from all around the world, while elevating local produce from the south-east of England.

Small plates include Genovese focaccia, Bottega’s cured cuts with fresh cheese and prawn croquettes with aioli while larger plates range from tarragon risotto with roasted autumnal vegetables, sesame glazed sea trout with white miso tamari-mirin infused ginger broth and Greek lamb meatballs, tzatziki, pickled red onion with pine nuts.

A menu of healthy salads packed full of grains are light enough for guests looking for a quick lunch or mid-afternoon snack, and ideal for laptop-toting professionals working from the venue.

The drinks offering at Union Social has been created by Walter Pintus, an award-winning mixologist who has been involved in some of London’s finest institutions from the Ritz and the Connaught to the Mandrake and most recently the Conduit. Union

Coupe at Union Social is the Gantry’s very own Sparkling Bar.

Occupying an eye-catching illuminated counter bar, with its own banquette seating and outdoor terrace, Coupe at Union Social will offer an ever-changing menu of effervescent specialities, from championing English sparkling wine to introducing the newest Hard Seltzers.

Guests will be able to choose from some of the UK’s finest fizz from revered estates such as Gusbourne and Rathfinny, as well as enjoying Champagne, Prosecco, and a concise list of sparkling cocktails and spritzes, curated by Walter Pintus.

The Gantry hotel sits above the Stratford Grocer & Co.’s bustling food market, deli and coffee shop on the ground floor set to open fully by mid-January.

A destination store for locals and visitors alike, the artisanal market will offer a rich selection of produce for guests to take home; deli items as well as a large selection of curated wines beers, and spirits handpicked by the team of expert grocers.

A buzzy meeting place for all kinds of Gantry guests, the integrated café with its large seating area which extends from the hotel lobby serves up award winning specialty coffee, as well as an abundance of British cheese and charcuterie that guests can enjoy before perusing the ground floor for last minute dinner ingredients, a mid-morning coffee with friends, a takeaway lunch, or a slice of East London to take home as a special gift.

Literally setting the bar high for al fresco partying in 2022, the Gantry will welcome the highest rooftop bar in East London when it opens its 18th floor in spring next year.

With floor to ceiling windows, the sky bar will form the cocktail epicentre of the Gantry and the much-anticipated venue will offer a truly iconic sunset across the capital when the bar and outdoor terraces come alive with live music and DJs.

More Information

The Gantry Hotel is an independent design hotel that will be the fifth property within the Curio Collection in London, marking an exciting new direction for the group.

Offering 291 rooms over 17 floors, the hotel will be managed by Saurabh Kukreja, a seasoned hotelier with experience in managing luxury and lifestyle hotels in UK, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Find out more on the official website.

Images: Katya Katkova and Jonathan Sharp

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North East leaders’ fury at No.10 Christmas party scandal

Newcastle’s leaders have spoken of their fury at a “shameful” alleged Christmas party at 10 Downing Street while the nation was in lockdown.

Reports emerged last week of a party at No. 10 last December 18 at a time when London, like the North East, was under tier three Covid restrictions – with indoor mixing with people outside your own household banned and Christmas parties specifically prohibited.

Newcastle Labour MPs Catherine McKinnell and Chi Onwurah react to the alleged No.10 Christmas party

Leaked footage sent to ITV News on Tuesday has now shown senior staff, including the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton, laughing as they rehearsed questions about such a party taking place.

No 10 initially said all rules had been followed before later denying any party had taken place, while Boris Johnson has now ordered an investigation – though he says that he has been “repeatedly assured” there was no party.

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Sam Ihekwoaba Named America East Rookie of the Week

BOSTON – America East announced Monday that University of Maine freshman guard Sam Ihekwoaba has been named the league’s Rookie of the Week after he scored nine points on 3-for-3 shooting from three point range at Columbia University.
The Orlando, Florida native recorded three three-pointers in Maine’s Saturday night contest in New York. Ihekwoaba also grabbed two rebounds during the non-conference contest. This is the freshman’s first career conference award.
The Black Bears will travel to Quinnipiac College this Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:00 pm.

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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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