Beijing reports first local omicron case ahead of Olympics – KXAN Austin


FILE – A woman wearing a face mask to protect against COVID-19 walks past a clock counting down the time until the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Beijing has reported its first local omicron infection, according to state media, weeks before the Olympic Winter Games is due to start. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

HONG KONG (AP) — Beijing has reported its first local omicron infection, according to state media, weeks before the Winter Olympic Games are due to start.

The infected person lives and works in the city’s northwestern district of Haidian and had no travel history outside of Beijing for the past two weeks. The individual experienced symptoms on Thursday and was tested on Friday for COVID-19, officials said in a news conference Saturday during which they confirmed the infection.

The infection comes less than three weeks before the Winter Olympic Games’ opening ceremony on Feb 4., and around two weeks before the start of Lunar New Year celebrations in China.

So far, multiple cities in China have reported omicron infections, including Shanghai, the western city of Xi’an, cities in southern Guangdong province such as Zhuhai and Zhongshan, and the city of Tianjin, which is 30 minutes from Beijing by high-speed rail.

Officials across the country have urged residents to stay in their cities for the new year, instead of traveling back to their hometowns. China has adopted a strict “zero-Covid” policy, with authorities locking down residential compounds and even entire cities such as Xi’an when a local outbreak has been discovered in an effort to stamp out community transmission.

The Beijing patient’s residential compound and workplace have been sealed off and authorities are mass-testing people linked to either location for the coronavirus. Some 2,430 people had been tested as of Saturday night, according to The Global Times, a state-owned newspaper.

China reported 119 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, of which 65 were domestic cases. The country has reported 104,864 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.



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WorldTrips Reports Travel Medical Insurance Demand Up Nearly 70 Percent | State


INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 11, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The latest buying data from WorldTrips, a full-service organization offering a comprehensive portfolio of travel medical and trip protection insurance products, shows strong demand for the travel medical insurance offered through its platform for 2022. Travelers are requesting quotes for the company’s Atlas Travel® Insurance medical plans at record levels — to date, 67 percent more policies have been sold through WorldTrips for trips scheduled in 2022 compared to policies sold for 2019 trips. This demand is being driven as more destinations adopt travel insurance requirements for tourists as the Covid-19 pandemic enters its third year.

The travel medical insurance plans offered through WorldTrips are meant to assist travelers seeking coverage for unexpected medical expenses while traveling, including eligible Covid-19-related expenses and emergency medical evacuations. Coverage is also designed to satisfy country-mandated travel insurance requirements.

Where International Travelers Are Headed This Year

These are the most popular destinations for WorldTrips policyholders so far this year along with the travel insurance requirements:

Note: some countries do require travelers to obtain travel insurance for entry. Requirements are always subject to change; the latest information can be found on the WorldTrips Travel Restrictions hub.

How Travel Medical Insurance Works

Travel medical insurance provides coverage for unexpected health expenses while outside of your home country. Your regular health insurance may not cover you abroad, and there is always a chance you could get injured or fall sick and need medical care during your trip. Travel medical insurance typically provides additional coverage for various travel scenarios but does not include a trip cancellation benefit.

Many regular health insurance plans provide limited coverage outside your home country, while others provide none. Atlas Travel Insurance offered through World Trips can provide access to quality healthcare, travel assistance, and financial help if the unexpected strikes.

Unlike a standard health care plan, travel medical insurance may not cover services associated with pre-existing conditions or preventative care, such as wellness exams and regular prescriptions. You should always review the coverage descriptions contained for any plan you’re considering and pay special attention to the exclusions and restrictions.

To learn more about what WorldTrips can offer and to purchase travel insurance, visit WorldTrips.com to obtain destination-specific travel safety and security information.

WorldTrips, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a full-service organization offering a comprehensive portfolio of travel medical and trip protection insurance products designed to address the insurance needs of travelers worldwide. WorldTrips is a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. For more information about WorldTrips, please visit WorldTrips.com.

WorldTrips Insurance Services California Non-Resident Producer License #0G39708

SOURCE WorldTrips Travel Insurance



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December 24 Outdoors Digest Calendar Fishing Hunting reports tip


Calendar

Through Dec. 29 – Oklahoma dove season second split.

Through Jan. 2 – Texas North Zone second split of dove season.

Through Jan. 2 – Texas North Zone general whitetail season.

Through Jan. 2 – General whitetail season in Grayson and Collin Counties with the means and method of take restricted to lawful archery and crossbow gear.

Through Jan. 15 – Oklahoma archery deer season.

Through Jan. 16 – Texas South Zone general whitetail season.

Through Jan. 30 – Texas North Zone duck season second split.

Through Jan. 30 – Oklahoma Zone 2 duck season second split.

Through Jan. 31 – Texas woodcock season.

Through Feb. 15 – Oklahoma quail season.

Through Feb. 27 – Texas quail hunting season.

Jan. 4 – Monthly meeting of the Red River Fly Fishers at the Rec Hall at Eisenhower State Park. For information, visit www.rrff.org .

Jan. 7 – Second TPWD trout stocking at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond.

Jan. 8 – 15th annual City of Denison Howard Caylor Trout Derby at Waterloo Lake Park Pond. For information, call (903) 465-2720 (extension 2034) or visit the city of Denison’s website at http://www.cityofdenison.com/parksrec .

Jan. 30 – Third TPWD trout stocking at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond.

Feb. 1 – Monthly meeting of the Red River Fly Fishers at the Rec Hall at Eisenhower State Park. For information, visit www.rrff.org .

Feb. 5 – 2022 Red River Fly Fisher’s “Red River Rendezvous” at the Rec Hall at Eisenhower State Park.

Feb. 26-27 – 5th annual Texas Fly Fishing & Brew Festival at the Mesquite Convention Center. For information, visit https://txflyfishingfestival.org.

Feb. 27 – Fourth TPWD trout stocking at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond.

Feb. 27 – TPWD trout stocking at Sherman’s Pebblebrook Community Park Pond.

Notes

On this Christmas Eve morning, allow the Herald Democrat Outdoors staff to wish you, your family, and your friends a very Merry Christmas! And thanks for reading!…Since 2012, the Game Warden Peace Officer’s Association has been working to relocate its memorial from the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens to the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. According to a TPWD news release, the life-size bronze figure of a Texas Game Warden stands to honor the Texas game wardens that have lost their lives in the line of duty as well as serving as a reminder of the enduring legacy of wardens across the Lone Star State. “The Association saw this as a necessary move since other memorials—specifically peace officer memorials—are housed on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol,” said Game Warden Peace Officer Association president and current Texas game warden Major Quint Balkcom, in the release. “Housing the memorial on Capitol grounds would also serve a larger audience, many who have never interacted with a Texas game warden. This is an educational opportunity to learn more about our history and our critical conservation efforts.” When the Game Warden Peace Officer’s Association took the reins of this project, they also facilitated the necessary funding and legislative efforts required for relocation according to TPWD. After multiple attempts, a 2017 resolution in support of the project passed through both chambers of the Texas legislature. And last week’s hearing of the State Preservation Board cleared any remaining logistical hurdles that had stalled relocation. “This is an incredible step in the right direction,” said Colonel Chad Jones, director of law enforcement for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “The fallen wardens this memorial honors aren’t just the wardens of the past. Some of them were my friends and colleagues. Placing the memorial at the Capitol ensures their sacrifices will be remembered daily by the leaders, residents, and visitors to this state.”…TPWD notes that despite overcoming monumental hurdles, the memorial still faces an uphill battle to reach its final home. “Now that the project has received final approval from the State Preservation Board, we have moved into the planning phase of relocation which will be a lengthy process as well,” said Balkcom in the news release. “Ordering the granite for a new pedestal and physically moving the memorial takes months to plan and perform, but I am thrilled the project is one step closer to its new home and honoring our fallen family the way it was intended.” Balkom also added that an updated sculpture will be replacing the memorial in Athens in the future…Did you know? As the state’s only conservation law enforcement agency, TPWD’s game wardens patrol a vast network of waterways across Texas, respond to natural disasters, and oversee hunting and fishing regulations statewide. Through the agency’s 125 year history, a total of 19 Texas game wardens have lost their lives while serving the people of Texas…ODWC reports that the Sooner State’s 2021 holiday antlerless deer gun season opened up in specific zones on Dec. 18 and runs through Dec. 31. And once again, the agency is reminding everyone that “Hunters in the Know … Take a Doe!” …ODWC says that every hunter who participates in the holiday season may harvest two bonus antlerless white-tailed deer, even if the hunter has already harvested the maximum aggregate limit of six deer for all other current deer seasons…The holiday season in Oklahoma runs 14 days in all open zones, providing ample time for hunters to get out and help manage the state’s deer herd by increasing the antlerless deer harvest…Dallas Barber, big game biologist for ODWC, is hoping hunters will respond and help create a more balanced buck-to-doe ratio in the state’s deer population…ODWC notes that it’s big game biologists have a goal for overall antlerless harvest between 40 and 45-percent for all seasons combined. Heading into this year’s holiday season, so far, only about 37-percent of the statewide deer harvest in 2021 has been antlerless deer. So, Barber is hopeful the holiday season will push antlerless harvest over the agency’s 40-percent goal…Why is such a higher antlerless harvest necessary? ODWC says that it yields several benefits including an improved buck-to-doe ration, which brings a healthier overall herd in the state; promotes better antler growth by reducing competition for forage; prevents localized deer overpopulation; reduces the potential for damaging and potentially deadly deer/vehicle collisions; and lessens the extent of potential crop depredation problems across the state’s agricultural lands…

Hunting Reports

Despite this being Christmas Eve, most reports indicate that hunting is slow over much of the Red River Valley due to the unusually mild weather here and to the north…On the whitetail hunting front, there have been few if any recent reports of bucks being tagged by archers in Grayson County…On the duck hunting front, Dakota Stowers and his North Texas Outfitters are still putting clients on mixed bag hunts in southern Oklahoma, but he admits that many are having to work hard to find huntable concentrations of birds on area tanks and small lakes…There’s no recent update on quail hunting in Texas and Oklahoma, nor is there any report on woodcock hunting in East Texas, where the season for timberdoodles opened up a few days ago…Looking for a good, different hunt with family and friends over the Christmas holidays? Then don’t forget that the second split of dove season continues in Oklahoma through Dec. 29 and in the Texas North Zone through Jan. 2…Also, don’t overlook small game hunting options for rabbits and squirrels in North Texas. Check the TPWD website for full details and regulations…While deer hunting is slow as the season winds towards its conclusion on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, don’t forget that several of Grayson County’s biggest bucks have been tagged over the holidays and in the final few days of the season…Right now, hunting food sources is your best option unless a yearling doe proves the secondary rut is true and a buck chases her through a bottleneck area in front of your stand…Buck sightings might be slow in the unusually warm weather, but you can’t tag a whopper whitetail sitting in front of the Christmas tree!…

Fishing Reports

As Christmas weekend arrives at Lake Texoma, the water remains lightly stained, the water temp is 56 degrees, and the lake is 1.21-feet low. While there probably won’t be much fishing as families gather for the Dec. 25th holiday and travel far and wide across the state. But for those who do get out in the mild weather conditions, the current striped bass fishing at Lake Texoma is rated as excellent according to guide John Blasingame of Adventure Texoma Outdoors. He tells TPWD in its weekly fishing report that stripers are good in the main lake on Alabama-rigs, with the larger fish biting on swimbaits tossed around structure. The dead stick bite is also producing as jolly old St. Nicholas flies into town tonight.…At Lake Ray Roberts, site of the 51st Bassmaster Classic earlier in the year, TPWD says that crappie are good on main lake brush piles in 20-30 feet of water on minnows. The agency says that the bigger slabs remain in the Buck Creek area in the standing timber around 20-foot depths, with bait suspended in the 10-12-foot range…At Lake Fork, where water is being steadily drawn to reduce the lake level for work on the dam, water is lightly stained; water temps are 62-64 degrees; and the lake is 4.36 feet low and falling. Fork guides Jason Hoffman and Marc Mitchell tell TPWD that largemouth bass are good using suspending jerkbaits along drop-offs and ditches in 6-10-feet of water. Slow rolling spinnerbaits are also working in these same areas work also. The veteran Fork guides also note that Viper XP jigs in black and blue are also working against big timber found along the creeks and ditches in 7-10-feet of water. Finally, Shakyheads are also working in these areas with a four-inch Ring Fry as the bait. The guides say good luck and Merry Christmas to all! Meanwhile, the crappie bite at Lake Fork is good between the 154 and 515 bridges on creek channels according to Jack Wiggins of Jack Wiggins Guide Service. He tells TPWD that the slabs are feeding up on bait, so they are shad and happy! The Fork guide says to fish deep in 45-55-feet of water with fish suspended around 20-30-foot depths, with the best action on top of the timber with minnows…At the Blue River, ODWC says that rainbow trout are good on in-line spinnerbaits, PowerBait and spoons cast along channel braids and rocks. In-line spinnerbaits and spoons have been working the best for catching trout, especially in metallic colors slowly retrieved just off the bottom. For fly fishers, try small streamer patterns, midges, and nymphs. ODWC says that trout are hugging the bottom and are in deeper pools because of how clear the water is and the lack of stream flow in the gathering drought conditions… If you’re heading for the Texas Gulf Coast over the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays, Galveston Bay in the Houston area is one place to consider. TPWD quotes Capt. David Dillman of Galveston Bay Charter Fishing as saying that there are plenty of sheepshead around structures such as pier pilings, oyster reefs, and rocks. He says that live shrimp is the best bait for sheepshead right now. Meanwhile, speckled trout and redfish are being caught on the shorelines around Eagle Point and April Fool Point. In the jetties, fishing is the same song and dance according to the guide. Bull reds are also being caught on the bottom by anglers using fresh dead shad and crabs. A few oversized black drum are also mixed in. Anglers throwing live shrimp against the rocks are catching slot reds and sheepshead too…At Rockport, Damian Hubbs of Mathis Bait Company tells TPWD that redfish are good in 2-4-feet of water in sand pockets on gold spoons and cut bait. Speckled trout are good in 2-4-feet of water on Bass Assassins and topwaters fished early. Black drum are good on dead shrimp fished near drains on an outgoing tide. And flounder are good on Berkley’s Gulp baits fished on the edge of channels…At South Padre Island, Capt. Lou Austin tells TPWD that there is a good mix of redfish and speckled trout when anglers find them and can stay with them. Redfish have been really soft in their bite on live shrimp under popping corks and for those anchored and using cut mullet. The guide says that a good place to look for redfish is around the gas wells and near Three Islands. He’s also heard of a good bite in the Arroyo for those using cut mullet. Some are catching a lot of sand trout and some whiting too and sheepshead are being caught around the jetties and both causeways. Finally, Capt. Austin says be safe out there on the water since it’s gotten cold and Merry Christmas!…

Tip of the Week

As the city of Denison gets ready to celebrate the city’s Sesquicentennial Celebration next year, D-Town is getting ready to host the 15th annual Howard Caylor Trout Derby early in 2022. This upcoming event will take place from 9-11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022 at Waterloo Lake Park Pond according to Andrew Means of the city’s Parks and Rec Department. Look for more details soon; call (903) 465-2720 (extension 2034) during business hours; or visit the city of Denison website at www.cityofdenison.com/parksrec .



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Covid news: UK reports 82,886 new cases; Omicron dominant in Ireland – as it happened | World news


All vaccines still seem to provide a significant degree of protection against serious illness from Omicron, which is the most crucial goal. But only the Pfizer and Moderna shots, when reinforced by a booster, appear to have initial success at stopping infections, and these vaccines are unavailable in most of the world.

The other shots — including those from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and vaccines manufactured in China and Russia — do little to nothing to stop the spread of Omicron, early research shows. And because most countries have built their inoculation programs around these vaccines, the gap could have a profound impact on the course of the pandemic.

A global surge of infections in a world where billions of people remain unvaccinated not only threatens the health of vulnerable individuals but also increases the opportunity for the emergence of yet more variants. The disparity in the ability of countries to weather the pandemic will almost certainly deepen. And the news about limited vaccine efficacy against Omicron infection could depress demand for vaccination throughout the developing world, where many people are already hesitant or preoccupied with other health problems.



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COVID Update: New York reports record number of new cases as holiday travel ramps up


NEW YORK CITY (WABC) — The holiday travel rush has begun just as New York set a new single-day record for positive COVID cases, two days in a row.

On Saturday, the number of air travel passengers screened by the TSA at U.S. airports nationwide eclipsed two million for a third day in a row.

Friday’s 2,233,754 passengers screened was the highest number of travelers since Nov. 29, the Monday after Thanksgiving, as the number of travelers approaches pre-pandemic figures.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held a special COVID briefing Sunday to address the rise in cases amid the spread of the omicron variant.

“Clearly a challenge, a new challenge, but one we can meet. And what’s crucial for all new yorkers to understand is, New York City is ready,” de Blasio said.

“Omicron has proven to be the fastest, fittest, and most formidable variant of the virus, thus far,” Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. “This is in part due to it’s ability to evade the immune system, meaning that those who already had COVID and those who are vaccinated are more likely to be infected by omicron than past variants.”

The mayor urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated or receive their booster shot if they have not.

de Blasio said the City reported 5,731 new COVID cases on Saturday and 162 new patients were admitted to hospitals and being treated for COVID.

“A really, really shocking figure and one that will keep growing undoubtedly,” de Blasio said.

The mayor said a decision would be made before Christmas about whether the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration would go on.

“This is an all vaccination event, and it is outdoors and those are two very, very important, favorable factors,” de Blasio said.

Meanwhile, New York state set another single-day positive COVID case record with nearly 22,000 positive cases reported in 24 hours Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office reported.

The figure breaks the record for single-day positive COVID test results which was set just one day earlier.

The 21,908 positive COVID test results are out of 290,930 results reported – equaling a 7.53% positivity rate.

People have reported waiting in line for hours to get tested and at-home testing kits are in very high demand.

“I don’t plan to mail 20 million kits to people. What I’m going to do is do micro-targeting to find out the areas that have the least number of people vaccinated and higher rates, that’s what we’re tracking. So, they’re also available in stores and one thing I announced recently is that your insurance company now has to cover the cost of you buying that testing kit,” Hochul said.

More than half of the positive cases are in New York City.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted there would not be new widespread school or business closures despite a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We are in such a better situation than much of the country, but the key is more, more, and more vaccinations. So we are going to implement these mandates aggressively. We’re sending out inspectors, we need people to do this, we need all of these mandates to be followed. The more we vaccinate, the more we can get through this and the great danger here is shutdowns and restrictions,” de Blasio told WNYC Friday.

On Saturday, de Blasio said on Twitter that the City reported 5,263 new cases and 214 new hospitalizations on Friday.

The mayor announced the most aggressive vaccine mandate in the country last week, requiring private-sector workers to get vaccinated by December 27.

NYC hospitalization rates by vaccination status:

Cases per capita by vaccination status:

NYC COVID death rates by vaccination status:

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December 17 Outdoors Digest Calendar Fishing Hunting reports tip


Calendar

Through Dec. 29 – Oklahoma dove season second split.

Through Jan. 2 – Texas North Zone general whitetail season.

Through Jan. 2 – General whitetail season in Grayson and Collin Counties with the means and method of take restricted to lawful archery and crossbow gear.

Through Jan. 15 – Oklahoma archery deer season.

Through Jan. 16 – Texas South Zone general whitetail season.

Through Jan. 30 – Texas North Zone duck season second split.

Through Jan. 30 – Oklahoma Zone 2 duck season second split.

Through Feb. 15 – Oklahoma quail season.

Through Feb. 27 – Texas quail hunting season.

Dec. 17 – First TPWD trout stocking at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond.

Dec. 17 – Jan. 2 – Texas North Zone dove hunting second split.

Dec. 18-Jan. 31 – Texas woodcock season.

Jan. 4 – Monthly meeting of the Red River Fly Fishers at the Rec Hall at Eisenhower State Park. For information, visit www.rrff.org .

Jan. 7 – Second TPWD trout stocking at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond.

Jan. 8 – 15th annual City of Denison Howard Caylor Trout Derby at Waterloo Lake Park Pond. For information, call (903) 465-2720 (extension 2034) or visit the city of Denison’s website at http://www.cityofdenison.com/parksrec .

Notes

As the city of Denison gets ready to celebrate the city’s Sesquicentennial Celebration next year, D-Town is getting ready to host the 15th annual Howard Caylor Trout Derby early in 2022. This upcoming event will take place from 9-11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022 at Waterloo Lake Park Pond according to Andrew Means of the city’s Parks and Rec Department. Look for more details soon; call (903) 465-2720 (extension 2034) during business hours; or visit the city of Denison website at www.cityofdenison.com/parksrec… Grayson County’s first local stockings of catchable size rainbow trout have been taking place this week. The first such TPWD stocking was on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at Pottsboro Lake while the second one will happen today on Dec. 17 at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond …Wintertime is also trophy catfish season in Texomaland and ODWC reports that such action is heating up on 89,000-acre Lake Texoma.  Blues, channel cats, and flatheads are all good on cut bait, dough bait, goldfish, hot dogs, live shad, punch bait, shad, stinkbait and sunfish right now according to ODWC. Look for big whiskerfish along creek channels, in coves, near docks, on the main lake, near points, and in the river channels. Blue cat action should continue to get better according to ODWC as the winter season continues, with a lot of success coming on juglines in 15-45-feet of water for those using live shad…Renowned bowhunter Chuck Adams has tagged another Pope and Young Club world record animal. The velvet racked Sitka Blacktail Deer was taken on Alaska’s Kodiak Island in August and was panel measured last week by P&Y measurers. To see more on Adams latest world record big game animal, visit http://www.bowhunter.com ….

Hunting Reports

With the post-rut continuing, there haven’t been many more reports of big deer since Texas DPS state trooper Tarif Alkhatib arrowed what might be a new county record typical buck last week. If you missed that news story in last Friday’s Herald Democrat Outdoors section, the big 12-point mainframe buck has a reported green gross score in the mid-190s and a reported green net score in the upper 170s…As the second split of duck season continues, Dakota Stowers and his North Texas Outfitters guides are finding good limit shoots in southern Oklahoma, although it is taking some good scouting every day to find concentrations of ducks pushing into the region despite the mild weather…As Christmas Day approaches, most area waterfowling success is seeing wingshooters getting a few mallards, gadwalls, wigeon, green-winged teal, pintails and diver ducks like canvasbacks, redheads, and ring-necked ducks…Don’t forget that there are a couple of additional wingshooting options coming up in parts of the area over the next several weeks. First, the 2021-22 woodcock season begins in Texas as it runs its course from Dec. 18 through Jan. 31. Also keep in mind that the second split of the 2021 Oklahoma dove season is underway and continues through Dec. 29 on the Sooner State side of the Red River…In Texas, the second split of dove season begins in the North Zone today on Friday, Dec. 17 and continues through Jan. 2…Quail season is underway in both Texas and Oklahoma and there are a few reports of success. In western Oklahoma though, conditions are dry, wildfires have been erupting with ease, and scenting action is difficult for pointing dogs…

Fishing Reports

As the Christmas holidays approach, fishing remains good on Lake Texoma according to guide John Blasingame of Adventure Texoma Outdoors. He tells TPWD that the water is lightly stained; water temp is 56 degrees; and the lake is 1.35 feet low. Striped bass are good in the main luck on Alabama rigs, with the larger fish biting on swimbaits thrown around structure. The dead-stick bite is also producing right now…At Lake Ray Roberts, site of the 51st Bassmaster Classic earlier this year, there is no current bass fishing report. But TPWD says that crappie are good on main lake brush piles in 20-30 feet of water on minnows. The agency says that the bigger fish are still in the Buck Creek area in the standing timber around 20-foot depths with the crappie bait suspended in the 10-12 feet of water…At Lake Fork, water is lightly stained; water temps are 62-64 degrees; and the lake is 3.17 feet low. Guides Jason Hoffman and Marc Mitchell tell TPWD that Fork’s largemouth bass are still biting good on spinnerbaits and Chatterbaits worked along windy banks in 3-4-feet of water. Viper XP jigs are good on wood near creeks and ditches in 4-6 feet of water. Suspending jerkbaits are also good near points and creeks with some flooded timber in 4-7-feet of water…Fork crappie guide Jacky Wiggins says that the slab bite is also good between the 154 and 515 bridges on creek channels. Fork’s crappie are feeding up on bait, so they are shad and happy, if you will, says the guide. He says to fish deep in 45-55-feet of water, but keeping in mind that crappie are suspended around 20-30-feet on top of the timber. Success is coming for crappie anglers using small one-sixteenth ounce hand ties with a weight above it, but if they are biting, also add a minnow… At the Blue River near Tishomingo, Okla., ODWC reports a normal river elevation, water temp of 52 degrees, and clear water. The agency says that this past week, rainbow trout have been good on in-line Mepp’s style spinnerbaits, PowerBait, and small spoons fished along channel braids and rocks in the Johnson County stream…If your Christmas holiday travel plans take you near the Texas Gulf Coast, on the Upper Coast at the Bolivar Peninsula, TPWD is still getting many reports of bull redfish, redfish, and jackfish being caught on live finger mullet, fresh cut bait, or squid…On the Middle Coast at Port Aransas, TPWD says that the big bull reds are in 30-feet of water at the jetties and the Fina Docks, biting on cut and live perch and cut mullet. Sheepshead are good on live shrimp too according to Capt. Doug Stanford of Pirates of the Bay Fishing Charters…Finally, down on the Lower Coast at South Padre Island, Capt. Lou Austin tells TPWD that if you put in the work, you will bring home a full sack of fish that will rival Santa’s sack of toys. Trout are biting well on artificial lures tossed in murky water on the east side, and for those anglers using live shrimp on a popping cork around the gas well. Lots of sheepshead are being caught by those free shrimping dead shrimp around the Causeway. Schools of sand trout south of Coast Guard station are good too, but redfish are spotty, with some oversized fish being caught in the jetties. In the main channel, slot sized reds are coming to anglers using cut finger mullet near Channel Marker 68 near Three Islands…

Tip of the Week

With family, friends, and guests coming over for the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays, watching outdoor programming on your TV screen is a great way to pass the time. After all, if you can’t be outside fishing and hunting, watching some great outdoors programming is the next best thing, right? Thanks to Outdoor Sportsman Group’s MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) streaming platform, such programming is always available on demand with more than 20,0000+ hours available for viewing on your favorite devices like Xbox, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and LG and Samsung TVs. To give the gift of year-round outdoor programming, why not consider a gift card to MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) for a six month pre-paid plan ($49.50) or a 12-month plan ($98.99). For more information, visit www.myoutdoortv.com.



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Early Omicron Reports Say Illness May Be Less Severe


JOHANNESBURG — The Covid-19 virus is spreading faster than ever in South Africa, the country’s president said Monday, an indication of how the new Omicron variant is driving the pandemic, but there are early indications that Omicron may cause less serious illness than other forms of the virus.

Researchers at a major hospital complex in Pretoria reported that their patients with the coronavirus are much less sick than those they have treated before, and that other hospitals are seeing the same trends. In fact, they said, most of their infected patients were admitted for other reasons and have no Covid symptoms.

But scientists cautioned against placing too much stock in either the potential good news of less severity, or bad news like early evidence that prior coronavirus infection offers little immunity to Omicron. The variant was discovered just last month, and more study is needed before experts can say much about it with confidence. Beyond that, the true impact of the coronavirus is not always felt immediately, with hospitalizations and deaths often lagging considerably behind initial outbreaks.

Dr. Emily S. Gurley, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said of the signs that the variant is less severe, “It would not be shocking if that’s true, but I’m not sure we can conclude that yet.”

In the absence of more hard information, governments have reacted to Omicron with sharp restrictions on international travel and new vaccination requirements. World leaders who were accused of responding too slowly or weakly earlier in the pandemic are eager to be seen as taking action, though some experts question whether the travel restrictions are an overreaction.

The variant has spread rapidly and has been detected in more than 30 countries on six continents so far. Health officials and researchers say that it could be the most contagious form of the virus yet, and that it could soon displace the Delta variant that emerged last year as the predominant form. That has fueled fears that a world eager to emerge from two years of pandemic hardship could be headed into another cycle of illness, lockdown and economic suffering.

In Europe, as in South Africa, there are early indications that Omicron cases may be fairly mild, if easy to contract.

In Britain, the government said Monday that the number of Omicron cases there had climbed to 336, two and a half times as many as on Friday. Denmark reported 261 cases, quadruple the number on Friday, and local media there have reported that a holiday lunch for high school students may have been a superspreader event, with dozens of people catching the new variant.

Britain and Denmark do an unusually large amount of genomic sequencing of virus samples, to tell one variant from another and detect changes, which suggests that many Omicron cases in other countries are simply going undetected.

On Monday, the United States began requiring international travelers arriving in the country to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test taken no more than 24 hours before their flights, a standard that can be hard to meet. Previously, fully vaccinated travelers could show negative test results taken up to 72 hours before departure.

China, a major part of the global travel and tourism economy, announced that to maintain its zero-Covid approach, it would keep international flights at 2.2 percent of pre-Covid levels during the winter. Since August, it has almost entirely stopped issuing new passports, and it requires arriving travelers to quarantine for 14 days and provide extensive paperwork and multiple virus tests.

In South Africa, where scientists say Omicron is already dominant, the pandemic is surging once again. A month ago, South Africa had fewer than 300 new virus cases a day; on Friday and again on Saturday, the figure was more than 16,000. It fell somewhat on Sunday and Monday, but that may be due a reporting lag often seen on weekends.

“As the country heads into a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, we are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started,” President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote in an open letter to the country. He added: “Nearly a quarter of all Covid-19 tests now come back positive. Compare this to two weeks ago, when the proportion of positive tests was sitting at around 2 percent.”

A report released this weekend from doctors at the Steve Biko Academic and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, offers the strongest support yet for a more hopeful take on Omicron, though its author, Dr. Fareed Abdullah, gave reasons to be wary of drawing conclusions.

Dr. Abdullah, director of the Office of H.I.V./Aids and Tuberculosis Research at the South African Medical Research Council, looked at the 42 patients with coronavirus who were in the hospital last Thursday, and found that 29 of them, 70 percent, were breathing ordinary air. Of the 13 using supplemental oxygen, four had it for reasons unrelated to Covid.

Only one of the 42 was in intensive care, in line with figures released last week by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, showing that only 106 patients were in intensive care over the prior two weeks, despite the surge in infections.

Most of the patients were admitted “for diagnoses unrelated to Covid-19,” the report said, and their infection “is an incidental finding in these patients and is largely driven by hospital policy requiring testing of all patients.” It said that two other large hospitals in Gauteng Province, which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg, had even lower percentages of infected patients needing oxygen.

Dr. Abdullah said in an interview that he had walked into a Covid ward and found a scene unrecognizable from previous phases of the pandemic, when it would have been full of the humming and beeping of oxygen machines.

“Out of 17 patients, four were on oxygen,” he said. “That’s not in a Covid ward for me, that’s like a normal ward.”

Dr. Gurley, of Johns Hopkins, noted that the severity of disease reflects not just the variant but also who it is infecting. Two years into the pandemic, far more people have some level of immunity to the virus through vaccination, natural infection, or both, and that could translate to milder cases.

“We don’t know how to read the genetic sequences to say exactly how this variant will play out,” she said. “We’re getting more information now from South Africa, which is a particular population with a particular profile of pre-existing immunity.”

Dr. Maria D. van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid, told CBS News on Sunday, that even if it turns out that a lower percentage of Omicron cases are serious, that could be balanced by a larger number of cases, meaning more hospitalizations and deaths.

Dr. Abdullah also looked at all 166 patients with the coronavirus who were admitted to the Biko-Tshwane complex between Nov. 14 and Nov. 29, and found that their average hospital stay was just 2.8 days, and fewer than 7 percent died. Over the previous 18 months, the average stay for such patients was 8.5 days, and 17 percent died. Shorter stays would mean less strain on hospitals.

Eighty percent of the 166 patients were under age 50, and similar figures have been reported throughout Gauteng — a sharp contrast to earlier cohorts of hospitalized Covid patients, who were usually older. That could result from South Africa having a relatively high vaccination rate in people over 50 and a low rate in younger people, but one of the great unknowns about Omicron is whether existing vaccines offer strong protection against it.

Part of the caution in interpreting Dr. Abdullah’s report is that the numbers in it are small, the findings have not been peer-reviewed, and he does not know how many of the patients had Omicron, as opposed to other variants of the coronavirus — though the government reported last week that it already accounted for three-quarters of virus samples in South Africa.

Dr. Abdullah acknowledged those drawbacks, and noted there could be a lag between Omicron first turning up and a rise in serious illness and deaths. But so far, despite the huge increase in cases, Covid deaths have not risen in South Africa.

Lynsey Chutel reported from Johannesburg, and Richard Pérez-Peña and Emily Anthes from New York. Reporting was contributed by Megan Specia, Isabella Kwai, Sui-Lee Wee, Juston Jones and Jenny Gross.



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Live updates: US reports first known case of omicron variant


A medical student injects a man at a communally organised vaccination centre in Jena, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The city of Jena launched the communal vaccination center on December 1, where people can get vaccinated without an appointment against the coronavirus. (Martin Schutt/dpa via AP)

A medical student injects a man at a communally organised vaccination centre in Jena, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The city of Jena launched the communal vaccination center on December 1, where people can get vaccinated without an appointment against the coronavirus. (Martin Schutt/dpa via AP)

AP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant Wednesday — a person in California who had been to South Africa — as scientists around the world raced to establish whether the new, mutant version of the coronavirus is more dangerous than previous ones.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, made the announcement at the White House.

“We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” he said.

The infected person was identified as a traveler who had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. The person, who was fully vaccinated but had not had a booster shot, tested positive on Monday and had mild symptoms that are improving, officials said. ___

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

— The world faces weeks of uncertainty as more countries restrict travel

— Spain and Portugal are stepping up efforts to vaccinate residents, despite having inoculation figures that are the envy of the world

— Singapore’s COVID-19 strategy appears to be on track despite the new variant

— U.S. moves to toughen testing requirement for travelers

— More cases linked to the new omicron variant are surfacing, prompting countries to impose restrictions.

Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

UNITED NATÎONS — The United Nations chief is accusing countries that have restricted air travel from some African nations because of South Africa’s discovery of the COVID-19 omicron variant of “travel apartheid.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries that have imposed travel restrictions to adopt testing measures instead, saying pre-departure and post-arrival tests have allowed thousands of people to fly in conditions where the transmission of COVID-19 is “highly unlikely.”

What is unacceptable, he said, is to have Africa, “one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy, condemned to a lockout” for revealing a new variant that already existed in other parts of the world.

Guterres spoke at a news conference following a meeting Wednesday with the African Union Commission chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who vigorously condemned “the unfair measures” imposed on Africa by a growing number of mainly Western countries which he called “a form of stigmatization” and “injustice.”

The U.N. chief said he was launching a very strong appeal “to common sense: We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable.”

Mahamat echoed Guterres saying: “It’s immoral to condemn Africa in that way.”

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BEIRUT— Lebanon has declared a nighttime curfew for the unvaccinated ahead and during the holiday seasons. Its health minister on Wednesday called it one of the measures to stem a recent rise in coronavirus infections and a precaution against the new variant.

Lebanon has not recorded any infections with Omicron, but the small country enduring a severe financial crisis is concerned its health care system won’t be handle a new peak of infections.

Lebanon’s Health Minister Firass Abiad said the COVID committee wants to avoid imposing a full lockdown and hopes to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says travel bans by countries are having an impact on global cooperation against the new omicron variant by causing “challenges” to the sharing of laboratory samples from South Africa that can help get better grips on the new variant.

The comments Wednesday came at the first press briefing by the U.N. health agency since it christened omicron as a “variant of concern” after being brought to light by researchers in South Africa last week. Many countries responded by suspending flights from seven southern Africa countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for “tailored” intervention by countries, including testing travelers before and after they arrive in a country, and advised against “blanket travel bans” that “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says at least 23 countries have reported cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, “and we expect that number to grow.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. health agency “takes this development extremely seriously, and so should every country, but it should not surprise us. This is what viruses do, and it’s what this virus will continue to do as long as we allow it to continue spreading.”

Tedros, citing the early stages of global response to omicron, said efforts were ongoing to determine the severity of disease, transmissibility and the effectiveness of tests, treatments, and vaccines in the face of omicron. He said the delta variant remains by far the most common

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Health officials on Wednesday confirmed Brazil’s third known case of the omicron coronavirus variant as the government examined possible new measures to contain the virus, such as suspending some flights and requiring arriving passengers to show proof of vaccination.

A passenger from Ethiopia tested positive for Covid-19 upon landing in Sao Paulo on Nov. 27, the state’s health secretariat said in a statement. The 29 year-old man is vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer shot and is in good health, officials said.

The news came a day after Brazilian health officials reported confirmed cases of the omicron variant in two travelers arriving from South Africa –– the first such cases in Latin America.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has proposed a plan to give people 60 and older a 500-euro ($568) bonus if they get vaccinated against COVID-19, the finance minister said Wednesday.

The measure, announced by Finance Minister Igor Matovic, should boost inoculations in the European Union country with one of the bloc’s lowest vaccination rates. So far, only 46.1% of the nation’s 5.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The current four-party ruling coalition in Slovakia has been split over the issue. The pro-business Freedom and Solidarity opposed it, saying it was ready to support a 150-euro ($170) bonus only. But the party didn’t veto it, making the approval possible.

The bill will now go to Parliament. It would need some opposition support to be approved.

The bonus would be a voucher that could be used in restaurants, cafes, hotels or to buy tickets for sports, theater, cinema, exhibitions or concerts. It could be also used to pay hairdressers or fitness centers.

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BUENOS AIRES — Fear of the new variant also caused a scene reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic: a cruise liner turned away from port.

Argentina’s Ministry of Health said Tuesday it had isolated the German-based cruise ship Hamburg following two confirmed positive cases of the new coronavirus.

The vessel, whose trip originated in Hamburg, Germany, touched in at Africa’s Cape Verde islands en route to South America and Antarctica.

On Wednesday, it was at sea off Argentina’s Buenos Aires province with 285 passengers and 156 crew aboard. Officials said they were waiting for tests to determine what variant of the virus had been detected.

Officials initially had allowed some passengers off the ship when it arrived, causing a local controversy.

Plantours said Wednesday the ship was continuing its planned journey toward South Georgia Island and Antarctica and was not stranded.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Wednesday confirmed its first five cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant in people linked to arrivals from Nigeria, prompting the government to tighten the country’s borders.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Wednesday the cases include a couple who arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 24 and a friend who drove them home from the airport. The two other cases were women who also traveled to Nigeria and returned to South Korea on Nov. 23.

Health workers earlier said they were conducting genetic sequencing tests on a child of the couple and relatives of the man who drove them home to determine whether they were infected.

Following the confirmation of the omicron infections, South Korea announced it will require all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.

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PARIS — A spokesperson says France’s government will allow flights carrying French and European Union citizens back from Southern Africa to resume under very strict conditions starting Saturday.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the move will lift for “very few” travelers a suspension on flights from the region that France imposed last week as a precaution after the identification of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Trips for family visits, professional reasons or tourism still won’t be allowed, Attal said.

Only passengers who are returning home to France or who work as diplomats or for airlines will be permitted into the country, he said.

Under the rules taking effect Saturday, travelers departing from 10 countries, including South Africa and neighboring nations, Zambia and Mauritius, will need to get tested for the virus both before their flights and after arrival.

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MIAMI — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami is making face coverings optional for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated students whose parents sign opt-out paperwork.

The archdiocese made the announcement Tuesday, citing community COVID-19 statistics and the advice of physician advisors, the CDC and the Miami-Dade County Department of Health.

The CDC recommends mask-wearing in public indoor settings, including schools, in areas of substantial or high community transmission. As of Wednesday, Florida was the only state in the U.S. where transmission was low in nearly every county, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker.

Face masks were already optional for fully vaccinated students and teachers.

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s prime minister got a booster shot against the coronavirus and made an emotional appeal to citizens to get vaccinated as 570 new deaths in one day were reported from COVID-19.

Mateusz Morawiecki’s appeal on Wednesday was made to a nation with a vaccination rate of just 54%. The numbers of those fully vaccinated have risen very slowly in recent weeks, though fears of the new omicron variant have appeared to spur some to finally get vaccinated.

Poland also reported over 29,000 new infections, the highest infection rate since a virus wave in the spring made central Europe a global hot spot.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the rate of increase of coronavirus cases held steady over the last week, though its African, Western Pacific and European regions all reported gains.

At the same time, new weekly deaths linked to COVID-19 fell by 10% worldwide.

The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly epidemiological report on the pandemic that case counts shot up 93% in Africa, though it cautioned about interpreting too much from that high figure because it was largely due to “batch reporting” of antigen tests by South Africa.

The report, issued Wednesday, referred for the first time to the new omicron variant that WHO named on Friday. WHO said the variant, which was first detected in South Africa and Botswana, had been reported in a “limited number” of countries in four of health agency’s six regions.

As of Sunday, more than 280 million cases and more than 5.2 million deaths have been tallied due to the pandemic, WHO said.

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BERLIN — Germany’s intensive care association is calling for nationally uniform restrictions to be imposed immediately and warning that the number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care will hit a new high before Christmas.

German federal and state leaders are expected to decide Thursday on new measures to curb a sharp recent rise in coronavirus infections. Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz says he will back a proposal to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for everybody next year.

The DIVI association said Wednesday that more than 6,000 patients with COVID-19 will need intensive care treatment before Christmas and the all-time high from last year will be exceeded. It said that more than 2,300 new patients were admitted to ICUs in the last week alone, and that transferring patients within Germany isn’t a long-term solution.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is hailing steps by its member states to launch work toward an international agreement to help prevent and prepare for future pandemics in the wake of the coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the consensus decision during a long-planned special session of the U.N. health agency’s members was “cause for celebration.” It sets off work toward creating an “intergovernmental negotiating body” to draft an agreement, which is likely to take months if not years to be finalized.

“Of course, there is still a long road ahead. There are still differences of opinion about what a new accord could or should contain,” he said.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is entering a so-called state of calamity — the second this year — to curve an upward trend in coronavirus infections despite having one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe.

The state of calamity is one step below the country’s top level of alert.

The country is tightening passenger control in airports, seaports and land borders, requiring negative coronavirus tests for most incoming visitors as part of the new set of rules that kick in Wednesday.

Face masks are again required in enclosed spaces and coronavirus vaccination or COVID-19 recovery tests are required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia said it detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant omicron.

The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said the case came from a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country.”

The report said the infected individual and his close contacts had been quarantined.

The case marks the first-known instance of omicron being detected among Gulf Arab nations.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Health officials say a concertgoer who attended a gig in northern Denmark with a local DJ has tested positive for the new coronavirus variant omicron.

The concert was attended by nearly 2,000 people on Saturday in Aalborg. The Danish Patient Safety Authority has urged all those who attended the event to be tested, Danish broadcaster DR said Wednesday.

Statens Serum Institut, another government agency that maps the spread of COVID-19 in Denmark, said Tuesday that four cases of omicron had been reported in the Scandinavian country. It was not immediately clear if the concertgoer was included or if it was a new case.





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Live updates: Brazil reports 1st case of omnicron variant


FILE - A medical worker prepares a shot of Russia's Sputnik Lite coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in the GUM, State Department store, in Red Square with the St. Basil Cathedral in the background, in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 26, 2021. The developer of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine said Monday Nov. 29, 2021, that it will immediately start working on adapting that COVID-19 vaccine to counter the omicron variant. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

FILE – A medical worker prepares a shot of Russia’s Sputnik Lite coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in the GUM, State Department store, in Red Square with the St. Basil Cathedral in the background, in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 26, 2021. The developer of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine said Monday Nov. 29, 2021, that it will immediately start working on adapting that COVID-19 vaccine to counter the omicron variant. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

AP

SAO PAULO — Health officials in Brazil have reported the country’s first confirmed cases of the omicron variant in two travelers arriving from South Africa, the first such cases in Latin America.

The Sao Paulo state health secretariat said Tuesday a 41-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman are in isolation. The two Brazilians had their tests taken on Nov. 25 and showed light symptoms of the disease at the time.

The secretariat statement said both travelers arrived in Brazil on Nov. 23 and took a PCR test before a trip scheduled for two days later. Their positive test results were collected at the Guarulhos international airport, outside Sao Paulo, before a return flight to South Africa.

“After the positive result, the couple was instructed to remain in isolation at home. Both are being monitored by state and municipal (authorities), as well as their respective family members,” said the Sao Paulo health secretariat. It said neither of the two are registered in the state’s vaccination platform.

Another potential case of omicron has been under investigation by Brazilian authorities since Sunday.

The two Brazilians are the first confirmed cases in Latin America, which has suffered heavily from the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil alone has reported more than 600,000 deaths, a figure that analysts believe to be undercounted.

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Canada is banning foreign nationals from three more countries because of concerns with the omicron COVID-19 variant and all air travelers coming to the country apart from the United States will have to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and will have to isolate themselves until they get the results of their test.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says Canada is banning all foreign nationals who have travelled through Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt because of concerns with the omicron COVID-19 variant.

Canada already announced a ban on foreign nationals from seven countries in southern Africa. Canadians who have visited the 10 countries will have to be tested and quarantine.

The Canadian province of Alberta also confirmed its first case of omicron in an individual who travelled from Nigeria and the Netherlands. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says the person is asymptomatic.

Alberta is the third province in Canada to report the presence of the Omicron variant. Ontario announced its first cases on Sunday and Quebec reported its first case on Monday.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— New information shows omicron spread wider earlier than thought

— The EU’s medical agency says it will take two weeks to have an indication whether the current COVID-19 vaccines will be able to deal with the new omicron variant

— U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says new COVID-19 variant could slow the economy and hiring, while also raising uncertainty about inflation.

— Face masks are again mandatory in England in shops and on public transport due to the new variant

— See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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LISBON, Portugal — A hospital in central Portugal says it’s closing its pediatric services after finding out that a health worker who had contact with members of a soccer club affected by an omicron coronavirus variant outbreak was also infected with the same strain.

The Hospital Garcia de Orta in Almada, a town neighboring the Portuguese capital has tested 28 other workers who came into close contact with the positive case and all of them returned as negative, according to a statement released late on Tuesday.

An additional group of 28 hospital users have been identified as at possible risk and authorities were following up with them, it said.

The hospital said it will close both emergency and outpatient pediatric service for two weeks.

Portuguese authorities on Monday reported what appeared to be the first confirmed cases of local omicron transmission in Europe after recording 13 positives among members of the Belenenses SAD professional soccer club, including a player who had returned from South Africa where the strain was first identified.

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BERLIN — German vaccine-maker BioNTech said Tuesday that it should be able to begin shipping doses of its coronavirus shot for children under 12 in the European Union a week earlier than previously announced.

BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 vaccine together with U.S. partner Pfizer, said the lower-dosage vials will be delivered to EU countries from Dec. 13.

The 27-nation bloc had previously expected the shipments to begin Dec. 20, causing some concern that the start of the vaccine campaign for younger children might be disrupted by the festive period.

BioNTech will provide up to 13 million such doses to EU countries in December.

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GENEVA — Switzerland is putting off a planned party for its next president and considering enhanced restrictive measures amid rising coronavirus case counts and concerns about the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant.

Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters Tuesday that the omicron variant that was brought to international attention last week “appears contagious — very contagious — and potentially could evade the immunity that we have seen in the pandemic up to now.”

The country of about 8.5 million people recorded more than 7,200 new coronavirus cases per day based on the latest 7-day average of daily cases, up from fewer than 900 in mid-October. The all-time high count was just over 8,000 per day, recorded in late October 2020. Hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 have been rising, but remain far below peak levels about a year ago.

The Swiss government said it was considering a new tightening of anti-COVID restrictions such as by requiring all attendees of indoor public gatherings to show a COVID certificate that shows vaccination or recovery from the virus, or a recent negative test, up from gatherings of more than 30 people now.

Other options include requiring people who have not been vaccinated or haven’t recovered from the illness to work from home, or wear a mask at all times in common workspaces.

Meanwhile, the government, citing “the evolution of the health situation,” announced the postponement of a planned Dec. 16 “party” for Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis before he takes up the Swiss presidency next year. It was to take place in his native region of Ticino along the Italian border.

The Swiss presidency rotates every year among the seven members of the executive Federal Council, and Cassis is set to take over from current president Guy Parmelin.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says “blanket travel bans” will not prevent the spread of a new coronavirus variant, while acknowledging that countries could order quarantines and take screening measures like testing travelers before or after arrival, or both.

The updated travel guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as dozens of countries have barred flights from southern African countries where the omicron variant was brought to international attention last week. WHO says the move unfairly punishes Botswana and South Africa for doing the right thing and being transparent about the emergence of a new variant.

Some health experts have countered that travel restrictions are effective, and many countries have bucked with WHO’s traditional recommendation against travel bans. WHO said that as of Sunday, 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at curbing the spread of omicron.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” WHO said, while acknowledging the use of screening measures to help stem the spread of omicron.

In its statement, WHO said that so far, current PCR tests continue to be effective in detecting the variant.

The U.N. health agency also said “essential travel” for emergencies, humanitarian missions and transport of essential supplies “should continue to be prioritized.”

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MADRID — Health authorities in the Spanish capital have confirmed a second case of the omicron variant in a 61-year-old woman who had returned from a trip to South Africa on Monday.

The woman, who shows no COVID-19 compatible symptoms and was double-vaccinated, had arrived in a different flight to the first case of omicron recorded in Spain, a 51-year-old man with two doses of coronavirus vaccine who traveled over the weekend.

Both patients remain in isolation, the Madrid region’s health department said Tuesday.

Authorities in northeastern Catalonia said they couldn’t establish yet if two suspected cases of coronavirus were related to the new variant, saying the sequencing of samples would not likely be conclusive until Friday.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — A Romanian state-owned aircraft brought 70 passengers from South Africa to Bucharest after concerns about the omicron variant of the coronavirus led to flight cancellations that left people stranded.

Romania’s foreign ministry said 46 of the passengers on the flight that landed Tuesday afternoon were Romanians and included a professional Romanian rugby team.

“European solidarity is a tangible reality,” Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu wrote online after the aircraft landed, noting that 18 EU citizens not from Romania were on the flight.

Seven Romanian citizens in Cape Town failed to board the repatriation flight due to logistical reasons or lack of a PCR test, authorities said.

The national champion rugby team, from Baia Mare in northern Romania, said authorities had undertaken “sustained efforts” to repatriate 31 team members who had been participating in a tournament in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Romanian authorities said Tuesday that 72 Romanian citizens stranded in Morocco after the North African country canceled almost all flights in response to the omicron variant are to be flown home later this week.

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LISBON, Portugal — All air passengers coming to Portugal must board their planes with a negative coronavirus test if they want to enter the country beginning on Wednesday, when Portugal enacts its second state of emergency this year as it tries to stop a surge in new infections, authorities said Tuesday.

The director of Lisbon’s airport, Rui Alves, told reporters that travelers will be given different wristbands depending on where their trip originated to ease their identification during the airport screening process. The new entry rules were drafted before the first cases of the omicron variant were reported in the country in the last few days.

Those who fail to show a negative test face fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($340 to $910). Airlines that transport untested passengers could also be fined 20,000 euros ($22,600) per person and, if they persist, could even lose their license.

PCR or antigen test results will be required for those arriving by land from outside of the European Union and from most EU countries considered at high or medium-high risk.

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RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had nothing but praise for South Africa on how it has alerted the world to the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

“I really want to applaud and express gratitude to South Africa and its government for its extraordinary transparency and also the very important work it did in detecting this new variant and in making it known to the world,” he said. “That’s exactly I think, a model of responsibility that South Africa has exhibited that we would hope everyone in the world would show, because we are all in this together.”

Blinken spoke Tuesday at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Riga, Latvia.

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LONDON — New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus took effect in England on Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transportation, as the government said it would offer all adults a booster dose of vaccine within two months to bolster the nation’s immunity.

From Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

The reintroduction of mandatory face masks brings England closer in line with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — which had kept some restrictions in place after England lifted all mandatory measures in the summer.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new measures will “buy us time in the face” of the new variant. He said that while many people felt an understandable “sense of exhaustion” at the prospect of renewed restrictions, the U.K.’s position is “immeasurably better than it was a year ago.”

The government said Tuesday that 22 cases of the omicron variant have been identified, a number that is expected to rise.

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ATHENS — Residents in Greece over 60 years old will have to undergo mandatory vaccinations against coronavirus or face monthly 100-euro ($114) fines beginning next year, the prime minister announced Tuesday, declaring the country’s first general inoculation mandate.

The Greek government decided upon the measure in response to a surge in new daily infections and the emergence of the omicron variant. It will take effect on Jan. 16 and the fines will be added to tax bills, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised statement.

Greece’s overall COVID-19 death toll exceeded 18,000 this week with confirmed new infections at high levels. Roughly a quarter of the country’s adult population remains unvaccinated.

Vaccination mandates were introduced over the summer for health care workers and fire service rescuers in Greece, with those failing to comply being suspended from their jobs indefinitely without pay.

The government has ruled out imposing new lockdowns but says it is targeting the elderly with tougher restrictions to protect the public health service as ICU occupancy is near capacity nationwide.

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BERLIN — Germany’s national and state leaders will decide Thursday on new measures to tackle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, officials said after the country’s outgoing and incoming chancellors conferred with governors.

The measures are likely to include restrictions on shopping for unvaccinated people and limiting crowds at soccer matches, along with possible moves toward a vaccine mandate for all.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, held talks with Germany’s 16 state governors on Tuesday, hours after the country’s top court strengthened politicians’ hand by rejecting complaints against curfews and other restrictions imposed earlier this year.

Many states have tightened rules of their own accord, but experts and politicians have called for more coordinated national action as infection rates hit new highs.

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MOSCOW — Russian authorities on Tuesday tightened coronavirus restrictions because of the omicron variant, even though the country has yet to report its first confirmed case.

Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, announced Tuesday that travelers arriving from countries where the risk of contracting the omicron variant of coronavirus is high will have to quarantine for two weeks. She didn’t specify which countries were on the list.

Popova also said that results of PCR tests for coronavirus, used in many Russian regions to gain access to public places, will remain valid for only 48 hours instead of 72 hours.

“The new variant indeed elicits serious concerns and demands immediate, comprehensive study,” Popova said.

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GENEVA — The Swiss government says travelers arriving from Canada, Japan, Niger and Portugal will be required starting Wednesday to present both a negative COVID-19 test and undergo a 10-day quarantine.

The new measures were announced on Tuesday after cases of the newly identified coronavirus variant omicron turned up in those countries.

On Friday, the Swiss government initiated a similar requirement for travelers from Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, and banned all flights from seven countries in southern Africa where cases of the variant were first detected.

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WASHINGTON — Drugmaker Regeneron says that its COVID-19 antibody cocktail may be less effective against the omicron variant, though the company says more testing is needed to gauge the effect.

Regeneron’s cocktail is one of three antibody treatments that have become the standard U.S. treatments for COVID-19 patients who do not yet require hospitalization. The federal government has purchased and distributed millions of doses of the drugs, which are infused or injected by health professionals.

Because of mutations in the omicron variant, health authorities have warned that some vaccines and antibodies may lose their potency.

Regeneron says it is doing more analysis to define the variant’s impact on its drug’s effectiveness.

The company also says it is testing alternate antibodies that may be more effective against the new variant.

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MADRID — Spain’s government has banned flights connecting air routes from South Africa and six neighboring countries to the European country due to fears of the new omicron coronavirus variant.

The order affects any connecting flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Spain has no direct flights to southern Africa. The order will take effect on Thursday.

Spanish health authorities have reported one confirmed case of the omicron strain in a 51-year-old man who flew from South Africa to Madrid via Amsterdam. He was fully vaccinated and is showing mild symptoms. Three more possible cases are under investigation.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, though the World Health Organization warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

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RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was discovered in South Africa, underscores the point that “none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

Speaking in Riga, Latvia, during a two-day meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, Blinken also noted “a real disparity” between vaccinations in Africa and the United States and Europe.

“We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70%, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15% or less.”

He noted that sometimes the supply of vaccines may actually be sufficient to meet the needs, but the ability to get shots in arms is lacking.

He said the United States was working on a solution that “brings the private sector into the game to help solve these last-mile problems of getting shots and arms. We’re putting that into into motion now.”

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BRUSSELS — The omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The WHO said South Africa first reported the the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged — but that hasn’t stopped nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa.

Much is still not known about the variant — though the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.





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Hong Kong Expands Travel Curbs on Omicron Fears, Australia Reports 5 Cases | World News


By Marius Zaharia and Renju Jose

HONG KONG/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Hong Kong expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries as global health authorities raced to curb a potential outbreak of the Omicron virus, while Australia’s cabinet will review on Tuesday containment steps after five tested positive.

Singapore’s health ministry said two travellers from Johannesburg who tested positive for the variant in Sydney had transited through its Changi.

Omicron – first reported in southern Africa and which the World Health Organization (WHO) said carries a “very high” risk of infection surges – has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic.

Hong Kong is among the latest to expand travel curbs. In a late Monday statement, city authorities said non-residents from Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia would not be allowed to enter as of Nov. 30.

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“The most stringent quarantine requirements will also be implemented on relevant inbound travellers from these places,” the statement said.

Additionally, non-residents who have been to Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel and Italy in the past 21 days, would not be allowed to enter the city from Dec. 2, it added.

The global financial hub, among the last places in the world pursuing a zero-COVID strategy, earlier banned non-residents arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

In Australia, the five travellers with Omicron are all vaccinated and in quarantine, health officials said, adding they are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms.

Canberra delayed on Monday the reopening of the nation’s borders for international students and skilled migrants, less than 36 hours before they were due to be allowed back in.

“We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution but our overwhelming view is that whilst (Omicron) is an emerging variant, it is a manageable variant,” Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told a media conference in Canberra.

Growing hopes that Omicron will be milder than feared have helped restore some calm to markets this week, after a rout on Friday that saw roughly $2 trillion being wiped off the value of global stocks. [MKTS/GLOB][FRX]

Traders also took comfort from remarks by President Joe Biden that the United States would not reinstate lockdowns.

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

“We’re going to fight and beat this new variant.”

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong, Renju Jose in Sydney and Reuters bureaus; Wtiting by Himani Sarkar; Editing by Shri Navratnam)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.



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