Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans

Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans
Pedestrians walk through a shopping plaza in the city centre, as the state of New South Wales surpasses the 90 percent double-dose coronavirus disease vaccination target for those aged 16 and over, in Sydney, Australia, No. 9, 2021. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 04 December 2021

Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans

Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans
  • Queensland authorities suspected its first Omicron case in a person who traveled from South Africa

MELBOURNE: The Omicron coronavirus variant spread in Australia on Saturday, testing plans to reopen the economy as a cluster in Sydney grew to 13 cases and an infection was suspected in the state of Queensland.
Federal authorities are sticking with a plan to reopen the economy on the hope that the new variant proves to be milder than previous strains, but some state and territory governments have moved to tighten their domestic border controls.
Australia reported its first community transmission of Omicron on Friday at a school in Sydney. Authorities are investigating the source and said more cases were expected.
Queensland authorities suspected its first Omicron case in a person who traveled from South Africa and that genome sequencing was ongoing.
“The public health unit have ruled out that it is Delta but we haven’t been able to confirm if it is Omicron,” state Health Minister Yvette D’Ath. “But it is being treated as if it is.”
Authorities in South Australia said on Saturday that arrivals from New South Wales, Victoria and the capital territory will be tested. The state reopened its domestic borders only days ago for the first time in months.
Several thousand people protested vaccination mandates in Melbourne, with the demonstrations now a weekly event that has been attracting groups of regular citizens, as well as far-right and conspiracy theory supporters.
A smaller counter-protest called to stop the far-right movement in the city and support vaccinations.
The state of Victoria, home to Melbourne, requires full vaccination to access most hospitality services and non-essential retail, as well as to work in health care and many other industries.
Nearly 88 percent of Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated, health data showed.
Anti-vaccination supporters number in single digits in Australia, according to polls. But unvaccinated patients make up the vast majority of those hospitalized with the coronavirus. In Victoria, 90 percent of the 44 people in the intensive care have not been fully vaccinated, health data showed.
Despite battling many outbreaks this year, leading to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne — Australia’s largest cities — the country has had only about 834 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, a fraction of many other developed nations.
Australia has had just under 215,000 cases in total and 2,042 deaths.


Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them
Updated 13 sec ago

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them
COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Sweden announced Wednesday that several coronavirus restrictions will be extended for another two weeks.
Meanwhile neighboring Denmark was expected to announce that it no longer considers COVID-19 as “a socially critical disease” as of next month and will remove most restrictions.
“We have an extremely record high spread of infection,” Sweden’s Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said. “The assessment is that existing measures need to remain in place for another two weeks.”
“If the situation allows it, the restrictions will be lifted after that,” she said.
Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of Sweden’s Public Health Agency, said the reasoning for extending the restrictions is that they expect a decline in cases in a couple of weeks. She said the Scandinavian country had 270,000 new infections in the past seven days and that “our assessment is that, during this period, at least half a million can fall ill per week.”
In Sweden which has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., urged people to work from home when possible and said distance learning was an option in higher education to try to combat rising COVID-19 infections.
Denmark, meanwhile, is heading in the opposition direction.
In a letter Tuesday to the Danish lawmakers, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said he wants to follow the recommendations by Parliament’s Epidemic Commission so that the “categorization of COVID-19 as a socially critical disease will be abolished as of Feb. 1.”
The letter said “this is a new epidemic situation in which a high and increasing infection does not to the same extent as previously translate into hospitalizations.” The letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday ahead of a planned press conference with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
It was not immediately clear what restrictions Danes will end but they likely will include the digital health pass, which now must be used to enter museums, nightclubs, cafes, party buses and to be seated indoors in restaurants.
In Denmark, people above 15 must also flash the pass when attending outdoor events where the capacity exceeds 2,000.
In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin tweeted that “the government will assess the necessity of (the) restrictions” and “should consider opening low-risk cultural and sports events with a COVID pass and extending the opening hours of restaurants on a quicker schedule than was previously estimated.”

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents
Updated 26 January 2022

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents
  • Once the mandate goes into effect, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules

BERLIN: Austria will end its lockdown for unvaccinated residents next Monday — one day before a COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect in the country, the government announced Wednesday, according to Austrian news agency APA.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said the measure, which was introduced in November, was no longer needed because there was no threat of hospital intensive care units being overstretched, APA reported.
For weeks, the lockdown for the unvaccinated has been “a measure that many people complained about, but that was unavoidable for health policy reasons,” Nehammer said.
On Feb. 1, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults — the first of its kind in Europe — will take effect in the small Alpine country. Officials have said the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low. They say it will ensure that Austria’s hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. So far, 75.4 percent of the country’s residents have been fully vaccinated.
Once the mandate goes into effect, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules.
From mid-March, police will start checking people’s vaccination status during routine checks; people who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked to do so in writing, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($676) if they don’t.
If authorities judge the country’s vaccination progress still to be insufficient, Nehammer said earlier this month, they would then send reminders to people who remain unvaccinated. If even that doesn’t work, people would be sent a vaccination appointment and fined if they don’t keep it. Officials hope they won’t need to use the last measure. Fines could reach 3,600 euros if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.


Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack
Updated 26 January 2022

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack
  • ‘At the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border’
KIEV: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday that the number of Russian troops deployed along his country’s border was not enough for a major attack.
“The number of Russian troops amassed along the border of Ukraine and occupied territories of Ukraine is large, it poses a threat to Ukraine, a direct threat to Ukraine,” Kuleba told reporters.
“However, at the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border.”

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack
Updated 26 January 2022

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack
  • The day-long siege occurred on Jan. 15 when a British man took four people hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville

LONDON: British police said on Wednesday they had arrested two men in the northern English city of Manchester as part of a US investigation into a hostage taking at a synagogue in Texas earlier in January.
British police had previously said they had arrested four people over the incident: two teenagers in Manchester plus one man in Birmingham and another man in Manchester. The teenagers have been released without charge.
The day-long siege occurred on Jan. 15 when a British man took four people hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville, about 16 miles northeast of Fort Worth, Texas. The gunman died as federal agents stormed the temple while the four hostages were released unharmed.


Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February

Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February
Updated 26 January 2022

Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February

Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February
  • The move is the most far-reaching easing of curbs yet seen among the Nordic countries

COPENHAGEN: Denmark aims to scrap all remaining COVID-19 restrictions next week, the most far-reaching easing of curbs yet seen among the Nordic countries.
In a letter addressed to parliament, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said the government intends to follow recommendations issued by an expert panel on Tuesday to scrap all restrictions.
The proposal is still subject to parliamentary approval.