UK toughens Covid-19 rules as new strain arrives

UK toughens Covid-19 rules as new strain arrives
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference in London, Saturday Nov. 27, 2021, after cases of the new COVID-19 variant were confirmed in the UK. (AP)
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Updated 28 November 2021

UK toughens Covid-19 rules as new strain arrives

UK toughens Covid-19 rules as new strain arrives
  • The new rules add the requirement for isolation pending a negative result, significantly toughening the regime
  • Downing Street said the new testing regime and masks mandate would enter into force “next week”

LONDON: Britain on Saturday announced tougher entry rules for all arriving passengers and the return of a masks mandate, after confirming its first two cases of the new Omicron strain of Covid-19.
The cases were both linked to travel from southern Africa, and the government also expanded travel restrictions on the region with the addition of four countries to a “red list.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said face masks would again be required in shops and on public transport, after controversially ditching the mandate in July when he reopened the UK economy after a prior nationwide lockdown.
He signalled no new lockdown now, vowing a review of the new measures in three weeks and expressing hope that Britons could look forward to a more festive Christmas than last year.
“But we now need to go further and implement a proportionate testing regime for arrivals from across the whole world,” Johnson told a hastily arranged news conference, hours after the government confirmed the first two Omicron cases.
“So we are not going to stop people traveling... but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” he said.
Currently, all Britons and foreigners entering the UK are required to take a PCR test on day two after their arrival.
The new rules add the requirement for isolation pending a negative result, significantly toughening the regime, in a bid to curb the spread of the new strain.
“I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position and we can lift these measures again,” Johnson said. “But right now this is a responsible course of action.”
Downing Street said the new testing regime and masks mandate would enter into force “next week,” along with a requirement for all contacts of suspected Omicron cases to self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.

And effective early Sunday, the government said it was placing another four African countries on its travel ban — Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.
Britain has already said it is banning travel from six southern African nations because of the emergence of Omicron: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
“After overnight genome sequencing, the UK Health Security Agency has confirmed that two cases of Covid-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 (Omicron) have been identified in the UK,” a government statement said.
“The two cases are linked and there is a link to travel to southern Africa,” it said.
One case was detected in the central English city of Nottingham, and the other in Chelmsford east of London, officials said.
“We have moved rapidly and the individuals are self-isolating while contact tracing is ongoing,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
The government was widely criticized for its travel and quarantine policy earlier in the pandemic, when it kept borders open to foreign travelers even as infection rates spiralled.
“This is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic,” Javid said, urging the public to get follow-up booster jabs of vaccines.
Johnson said he planned to expand the program for booster vaccine shots, with the hope that government scientists will agree a government request to shorten the time-frame between second and third jabs, which is currently set at six months.
“It’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs, and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible,” the prime minister said.


Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
Updated 28 January 2022

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
  • Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall
  • Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction
JOHANNESBURG: Tropical Storm Ana has killed at least 86 people across southern and eastern Africa, with recovery operations still ongoing as another storm threatened more severe weather.
Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall. The country declared a state of disaster on Thursday night, reporting a rise in the death toll from Ana to 48, with people killed by landslides and collapsing buildings or washed away.
Ana then made landfall in Mozambique on Jan. 24, where 18 have been reported dead, before moving inland to Malawi, where it triggered massive power cuts. Malawi’s death toll rose to 20 on Thursday.
Across all three nations, Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction, according to the United Nations.
“This latest storm...is a blunt reminder that the climate crisis is very much a reality,” said Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Representative in Mozambique.
The region has been repeatedly struck by severe storms and cyclones in recent years, destroying homes, infrastructure and crops and displacing large numbers of people.
In some cases, communities still recovering are hit again, compounding the impacts. Experts say storms are becoming stronger and more frequent as waters warm due to climate change, with rising sea levels also making low-lying coastal areas vulnerable.
Another storm, dubbed Batsirai, is now traveling toward Africa’s east coast.
Meteo France on Friday described Batsirai as a small system that presented no immediate threat to a group of islands to the east of Madagascar, including the French territory of Reunion, because it was still days away.
However, it said the evolution of Batsirai’s intensity and trajectory remained uncertain. Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology warned Batsirai still had the potential to evolve into a severe tropical storm.

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
Updated 28 January 2022

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
  • Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang

BEIJING: China has agreed to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a report in the South China Morning Post which cited unnamed sources.
Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture and forced labor. The United States has accused China of genocide.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims and has described its policies as necessary to combat religious extremism.
UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet has been pursuing negotiations with China on a visit since September 2018.
China’s foreign ministry, China’s mission to the United Nations in New York, and the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The South China Morning Post report on Thursday cited sources saying that the approval for a visit after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, which run Feb. 4-20, was granted on the condition the trip should be “friendly” and not framed as an investigation.
As in 2008, the Olympics have again cast a spotlight on China’s human rights record, which critics say has worsened since then, leading Washington to call Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims genocide and prompting a diplomatic boycott from the United States and other countries.
“No one, especially the world’s leading human rights diplomat, should be fooled by the Chinese government’s efforts to distract attention away from its crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters in an emailed statement on Friday. 


3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
Updated 28 January 2022

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
  • The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members who have sued 3M, alleging its earplugs products were defective

FLORIDA, US: A federal jury on Thursday awarded $110 million to two US Army veterans who said combat earplugs sold by 3M Co. to the military caused them to suffer hearing damage, the largest verdict yet to result from hundreds of thousands of lawsuits over the product.
Jurors in Pensacola, Florida, sided with US Army veterans Ronald Sloan and William Wayman, who alleged that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2’s design was defective, lawyers for the plaintiffs’ said.
The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members and others who have sued 3M claiming they suffered hearing damage as a result of using the earplugs in what has become the largest federal mass tort litigation in US history.
Sloan and Wayman were each awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $40 million in punitive damages, the lawyers said. Each won more than the previously largest verdict in the litigation of $22.5 million.
“Juries continue to find that 3M’s earplugs were defective and that they are responsible for causing irreparable hearing damage to those who served our country,” plaintiffs’ lawyers Bryan Aylstock, Shelley Hutson and Christopher Seeger said in a joint statement.
3M in a statement said it was disappointed and would appeal. It noted it won the last two trials involving the earplugs and said its conduct was consistent with its “long-time commitment to keeping our US military safe.”
Aearo Technologies, which 3M bought in 2008, developed the product. Plaintiffs allege the company hid design flaws, fudged test results and failed to provide instructions for the proper use of the earplugs.
The trial was the 11th so far to reach a verdict. Plaintiffs in six trials, including Thursday’s, have won more than $160 million combined. Juries sided with 3M in the five others.
Five more trials are scheduled this year. 


Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order
Updated 28 January 2022

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order
  • Mutinous soldiers ousted democratically elected President Kabore on Monday
  • Kabore's government was chided for failing to stem jihadist violence

OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso’s new military leader said he was going to bring security and order back to the conflict-ridden nation and unite the country, but warned that betrayal wouldn’t be tolerated by the new regime.
Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, leader of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, spoke Thursday evening in his first public address to the nation since seizing power from President Roch Marc Christian Kabore earlier this week.
“I warn all those who will be guided only by their selfish interests that I will be uncompromising with the acts of betrayal of the aspirations of our people,” he said in an address aired on Burkina Faso’s state broadcaster.
Speaking from the presidential palace, Damiba said the country was facing an unprecedented crisis and the junta’s priority would be to restore security by renewing the will to fight among its soldiers and by listening to people to form a path forward.
“In its history, our country has rarely been confronted with adversity. But more than six years now our people have been living under the yoke of an enemy that succeeded,” said Damiba. “The task before us is immense. Fortunately, it is not only mine, it is all of ours. It will require great individual and collective efforts and certainly sacrifices on our part.”
Mutinous soldiers ousted democratically elected President Kabore on Monday after months of growing frustration at his government’s inability to stem jihadist violence that has spread across the country, killing thousands including security forces. Kabore has not been heard from since he was detained by the military and resigned, though the junta has said he is in a safe place.
Since taking over, the junta has spent the last few days trying to shore up support from religious and community leaders, security forces and unions. On Thursday it met with the labor union in the presidential palace and explained its motives for the coup, saying it would correct the previous regime’s flaws, said Moussa Diallo, the secretary general for the union who was at the meeting.
While Damiba said he had no problem with the unions, he also issued a veiled threat, ordering citizens not to speak out against the regime, said Diallo.
The international community has condemned the coup, despite widespread local support.
The US State Department in a statement expressed deep concern about the dissolution of the government, suspension of the constitution and the detention of government leaders. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on coup leaders to lay down their arms. He reiterated the UN’s “full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order” in Burkina Faso and support for the people in their efforts “to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The West African regional economic bloc, known as ECOWAS, has also condemned the coup and will be holding a summit Friday to discuss the mutiny.
Damiba on Thursday also called on the international community not to turn its back on Burkina Faso.
“In these particularly difficult times for our country, Burkina Faso needs its partners more than ever. This is why I call on the international community to support our country so that it can emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible and resume its march toward development,” he said.


Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
Updated 28 January 2022

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months

WASHINGTON: A study by the RAND Corporation think-tank released on Thursday faulted the US military for “considerable weaknesses” and inconsistencies in its review of allegations of civilian casualties, and the Pentagon announced a broad review.
The US military is under intense scrutiny over its procedures to guard against civilian casualties following a high-profile, mistaken drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.
Not only did the US military botch the targeting but, in the strike’s initial aftermath, the Pentagon’s assessment concluded that it killed Daesh militants preparing a bombing attack against US troops.
The independent RAND study, which was required by congressional legislation, concluded systemic weaknesses at the Department of Defense (DoD) were causing it to fall short of its duties on civilian casualties.
“DoD is not adequately organized, trained, or equipped to fulfill its current responsibilities for addressing civilian harm,” the report concluded.
In conflicts, the US military often has limited access to targeted areas before or after strikes, relying on intelligence gathered remotely from sources like drone surveillance and satellite imagery.
RAND found the US military sometimes compounds this problem by failing to adequately talk to people from outside the US government or armed forces who might have access to information on the ground.
However, a 2018 Joint Staff review found that 58 percent of civilian casualties identified between 2015 and 2017 came from external sources, RAND said.
“We found that DoD’s current approach to assessing, investigating, and responding to civilian harm has considerable weaknesses in key areas and is inconsistent across theaters,” the report found.
The report also noted that investigating civilian casualties often falls to junior personnel “who do not receive formal training.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months and the creation of civilian protection center of excellence later this year.
A senior US defense official, briefing reporters on Austin’s decision, said incorporating information from sources outside the US government and US military would be key to the reforms.
“We tend to rely heavily on what is in our own data findings, and I think we need to build a system and also an expectation that other sources of information ... are built into this and have credibility,” the official said.
“That’s not something that we do consistently well, and that’s something that we intend to change.”