Coal mine fire in Russia’s Siberia kills 11, dozens trapped

Coal mine fire in Russia’s Siberia kills 11, dozens trapped
Russia's emergencies ministry said it did not know the whereabouts of 48 people after an incident in a coal mine in Siberia. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2021

Coal mine fire in Russia’s Siberia kills 11, dozens trapped

Coal mine fire in Russia’s Siberia kills 11, dozens trapped
  • According to preliminary information, there were 285 people inside the Listvyazhnaya coal mine near the town of Belovo when the incident occurred
  • 237 people had been brought to the surface, including 45 who were injured

MOSCOW: A fire at a coal mine in Russia’s Siberia killed 11 people and injured 60 others on Thursday, with dozens of others still trapped, authorities said.
Efforts to rescue those trapped in the mine were halted on Thursday afternoon because of an explosion threat, and rescuers were rushed out of the mine, administrators of the mine told the Interfax news agency.
The blaze took place in the Kemerovo region in southwestern Siberia. Russia’s state Tass news agency reported, citing an unnamed emergency official, that coal dust caught fire, and that smoke quickly filled the Litsvyazhnaya mine through the ventilation system.
A total of 285 people were in the mine at the time of the incident — 239 of them have been evacuated and 46 other miners are still trapped underground, Kemerovo Governor Sergei Tsivilyov said on his page on the messaging app Telegram.
Tsivilyov said in another Telegram post that a total of 60 people with injuries have sought medical assistance, and 38 of them have been hospitalized.
Earlier Thursday, Russia’s acting minister for emergency situations, Alexander Chupriyan, said 44 miners have been hospitalized with injuries. The difference in injury tolls reported by different officials couldn’t be immediately reconciled.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal probe into the fire on charges of violating safety regulations that led to deaths.
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday extended his condolences to the families of the killed miners and ordered the government to offer all the necessary assistance to those who were injured, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane explosions in a coal mine in Russia’s far north. In the wake of the incident, the authorities analyzed the safety of the country’s 58 coal mines and declared 20 of them, or 34 percent, potentially unsafe.
The Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region wasn’t among them at the time, according to media reports.
The latest inspection of the mine took place on Nov. 19, Interfax reported, citing officials from Rostekhnadzor, Russia’s state technology and ecology watchdog. The report didn’t offer any details on the results of the inspection.


Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry
Updated 43 min 41 sec ago

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry
  • Manila announced plans last week to allow fully vaccinated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1
  • The decision is a major blow to tourism operators across the archipelago nation

MANILA: The Philippines has temporarily suspended a decision to allow fully vaccinated tourists entry in a bid to prevent a new, heavily mutated coronavirus variant taking off in the country where most of the population remains unvaccinated.
It comes as the Southeast Asian nation on Monday launched a three-day vaccination drive targeting nine million people as young as 12 in an effort to accelerate the roll-out of jabs.
So far, the country has not reported any cases of the omicron strain, which was first detected in South Africa and has since spread around the globe.
Manila announced plans last week to allow fully vaccinated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1 as it seeks to revive the nation’s battered economy.
But the government’s COVID-19 task force reversed course over the weekend as it announced the suspension of flights from seven European countries, in addition to an earlier ban on arrivals from several African nations.
“The IATF deemed it necessary to suspend the entry of foreign tourists, given worldwide concerns over the omicron variant,” Bureau of Immigration commissioner Jaime Morente said Monday, using the acronym for the task force.
The decision is a major blow to tourism operators across the archipelago nation, which have been devastated by a plunge in international visitors and restrictions on domestic travel since borders shut in March 2020.
Tourism is a major driver of the country’s economy, accounting for nearly 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2019, when more than eight million people visited, official data shows.
That slumped to 5.4 percent last year as tourist arrivals plummeted 82 percent to 1.48 million.
The government has eased virus restrictions in recent weeks as the daily infection rate hovers at the lowest level since the beginning of the year and the nationwide vaccination rate increases.
But the emergence of omicron has raised fears curbs could be reimposed.
Around one-third of the country’s 110 million people are fully vaccinated.
The Philippines has recorded more than 2.8 million infections since the start of the pandemic, including over 48,000 deaths.


Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant
Updated 43 min 6 sec ago

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant
  • South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant

CANBERRA: Australian authorities announced on Monday a third case of the omicron COVID-19 variant as government leaders reconsidered plans to relax border restrictions this week.
A South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant at Australia’s most secure quarantine facility at Howard Springs, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.
New South Wales state authorities reported on Sunday that two travelers from South Africa to Sydney had become Australia’s first omicron cases. Both were fully vaccinated, showed no symptoms and were in quarantine in Sydney.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said Monday there could be a third omicron case in Australia’s most populous state.
In the 24 hours since Sunday, 141 passengers on five flights arrived from the nine countries affected by the omicron variant, officials said. All the travelers were in quarantine.
Senior federal government ministers are meeting Monday to consider the national response, including whether to alter plans to relax border restrictions starting Wednesday.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian authorities “will not hesitate to take additional steps if the medical evidence is that more” action is required.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that starting Wednesday, vaccinated students, skilled workers and travelers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without quarantining.
Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea with certain Australian visas would also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas, the government said last week.
Morrison on Monday urged a calm response to omicron, which the World Health Organization has designated a variant of concern.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that this leads to any more severe disease. If anything, it’s suggesting a lesser form of disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated,” Morrison told Nine Network television.
“Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It’s about whether people are getting a worse illness or it’s going to put stress on your hospital system,” Morrison said.
New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, as well as the national capital Canberra have introduced a blanket 72-hour quarantine requirement for all international arrivals.
Hunt announced on Saturday that because of the concerns about omicron, non-Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
Australians will be allowed in but must quarantine for 14 days.


New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat
Updated 42 min 30 sec ago

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat
  • New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world
  • New Zealand has had about 11,000 cases so far and 43 related deaths

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the country will move into a system of living with the COVID-19 virus later this week despite the new omicron variant posing a fresh health threat to the world.
There were no cases of the omicron variant in New Zealand at this stage but the developing global situation showed why a cautious approach was needed at the borders, she said.
“omicron is a reminder of the risk that still exists at our borders,” Ardern said at the news conference.
New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world and plans to keep borders closed to most international travelers for a further five months.
It also introduced fresh border measures for travelers from nine southern African nation on the weekend, announcing that only citizens from these countries can travel to New Zealand and will have to stay in state quarantine for 14 days.
Ardern said a lot of evidence still needed to be gathered to know the impact of the omicron variant.
“It may impact on our vaccines, but it may not. It may be more severe or it may be more mild than Delta ... we simply dont know,” Ardern said.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said authorities were looking at whether more needed to be done at the borders to keep omicron away.
“It’s really just looking to keep it (omicron) out while we learn more about it,” Bloomfield told reporters at the news conference.
New Zealand moves into a new “traffic light” system from Friday that rates regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates. Auckland, the epicenter of the country’s Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings at public places.
New Zealand has had about 11,000 cases so far and 43 related deaths.


Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days
Updated 42 min 12 sec ago

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days
  • Immunization campaign was scaled back from an earlier target of 15 million shots
  • The Philippines has faced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: The Philippines launched on Monday an ambitious drive to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 over three days, deploying security forces and using tens of thousands of volunteers to help administer the program.
The immunization campaign was scaled back from an earlier target of 15 million shots, but would still be a record in a country where vaccine hesitancy remains an obstacle and there are logistical hurdles to reach people in the sprawling archipelago.
Three million vaccinations per day is nearly four times the average of 829,000 daily shots in November. An official said news of the omicron variant made the campaign even more vital.
“It is better to be prepared for the effects of omicron,” Carlito Galvez, the country’s vaccination chief, told CNN Philippines on Monday.
The spread of the omicron variant, which the World Health Organization has described as a “variant of concern,” has sparked global travel restrictions and rattled financial markets.
The Philippines has faced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia and has been slower than many of its neighbors in immunizing its people. About 35.6 million people have been fully vaccinated, or a third of its 110 million population.
The country aims to immunize 54 million people by the end of 2021 and 77 million by next March.
New infections have fallen sharply to an average of 1,679 a day in November from a peak of 18,579 average daily cases in September, paving the way for a wider economic reopening.
Vaccination rates have remained uneven, with 93 percent of the capital region’s residents fully inoculated as of mid-November compared with 10.9 percent of the predominantly Muslim regions in the southern Philippines, government data show.
The government has said it would deploy 160,000 volunteers in 11,000 vaccination sites nationwide for the three-day campaign.


Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant

Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant
Updated 27 min 58 sec ago

Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant

Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant
  • Decision that reverses a measure to allow some business travelers and students into Japan

TOKYO: Japan announced plans Monday to bar all new foreign travelers over the omicron variant of COVID-19, joining a growing list of countries trying to erect virtual fortresses against the heavily mutated new strain.

G7 health ministers are set to meet later in the day to discuss the new strain — first detected in South Africa — and the fresh challenge it poses to global efforts to battle the pandemic.

The Japanese government has become the latest country to reinstate strict border controls that many had hoped would be a thing of the past, barring all new foreign arrivals just weeks after announcing it would finally allow some visa holders to enter the country.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country was “in a stronger position against the omicron variant than other countries,” citing voluntary mask-wearing and self-restraints about risk behaviors.

The Philippines also said it would temporarily suspend plans to allow fully vaccinated tourists entry, in a bid to prevent the variant taking off in a country where most of the population remains unvaccinated.

Manila had hoped to revive the country’s battered economy by allowing jabbed tourists entry as of Wednesday.

The variant is also throwing a tentative opening-up into doubt in Australia, where the government is now reconsidering plans to relax border restrictions further in just two days.

But with three omicron cases confirmed in people flying into Australia from southern Africa — two landing in Sydney and one in the northern city of Darwin — Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared reluctant to re-impose the kinds of strict lockdowns seen earlier this year.

“We don’t just need to learn to live alongside COVID, we need to learn to live alongside the variants as well,” he said.

Much of the uncertainty surrounds just how infectious omicron is and how resistant it is to existing vaccines.

The prestigious Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome on Sunday released the first “image” of the new strain and confirmed there were many more mutations than seen in the Delta variant, though said that does not mean it is more dangerous.

But European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday governments faced a “race against time” to understand the strain and that vaccine manufacturers needed two to three weeks “to get a full picture of the quality of the mutations.”

A long list of countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, including key travel hub Qatar, as well as the United States, Britain, Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.

Israel has announced some of the strictest curbs, closing the borders to all foreigners just four weeks after reopening to tourists following a prolonged closure.

Angola on Sunday became the first southern African country to suspend all flights from its regional neighbors Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

South Africa has strongly protested the new restrictions, with its foreign ministry claiming it is being “punished” for first identifying a strain that has now been detected everywhere from the Netherlands to the UK, Canada to Hong Kong.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday urged countries to lift the travel bans “before any further damage is done to our economies,” while his counterpart in Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera, accused Western countries of “Afrophobia” for shutting their borders.

The head of the World Health Organization in Africa also urged countries to follow the science rather than impose flight bans in a bid to contain the new COVID strain.

“With the omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” WHO regional director Matshidiso Moeti said.

But in a sign of optimism, Singapore and Malaysia eased coronavirus travel restrictions on one of the world’s busiest land borders after nearly two years.

As of Monday, vaccinated citizens, those holding permanent residency status and work permits can cross the one-kilometer causeway separating the countries without having to quarantine.

And despite the new threat, tens of thousands rallied in Austria to protest the government’s recent introduction of compulsory vaccination — the first EU country to do so.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said it was “a minor interference” compared to the alternative for a country with one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe.