Norway tightens measures as COVID-19 cases surge

Norway tightens measures as COVID-19 cases surge
People waiting for public bus transport wearing facemasks during covid-19 pandemic in Norway that will tighten health measures to combat a surge in cases, the government said on Tuesday. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 08 December 2021

Norway tightens measures as COVID-19 cases surge

Norway tightens measures as COVID-19 cases surge
  • From four weeks starting at midnight on Thursday, authorities will limit the number of guests in a home to 10
  • The number may be raised to 20 over the Christmas period

OSLO: Norway will tighten health measures to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases, including a limit on the number of people at parties, the government said on Tuesday.
From four weeks starting at midnight on Thursday, authorities will limit the number of guests in a home to 10 – in addition to the people in the household.
Last week, a suspected outbreak of the newly discovered omicron variant among dozens of partygoers who had all been vaccinated led the government to introduce new restrictions to deal with COVID-19 in and around the capital Oslo.
“The situation is now so serious that we have to take new measures to keep the pandemic under control,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a press conference.
However, the number may be raised to 20 over the Christmas period, so long as at least a meter (three feet) is kept between guests, it said.
Masks will also be compulsory – but again, only if social distancing cannot be maintained at one meter, while table-only service will be mandatory at restaurants and bars.
“The risk of overloading health services and the spread of the more contagious omicron variant now requires new strict measures in our country,” Store said.
Norway has recorded 29 omicron cases so far.


Japan ready to expand COVID-19 restrictions as infections surge

Japan ready to expand COVID-19 restrictions as infections surge
Updated 52 min 11 sec ago

Japan ready to expand COVID-19 restrictions as infections surge

Japan ready to expand COVID-19 restrictions as infections surge
  • Japan has never had a lockdown during the pandemic but has focused instead on asking restaurants and bars to close early
  • Bars and eateries that abide by the government restrictions are eligible for aid

TOKYO: Japan’s government is preparing social restrictions in Tokyo and other regions as the omicron variant of the coronavirus infects more people.
Japan has never had a lockdown during the pandemic but has focused instead on asking restaurants and bars to close early. Crowds are back in many parts of Japan, with people packing stores and events, while COVID-19 cases jump.
The order will be finalized this week and is likely to take effect Friday for Tokyo and nine other regions, including Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi and Kumamoto, the government spokesman said Tuesday.
An order was issued earlier this month for Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures. Other areas seeing surging infections, such as Osaka, may be added later.
“The infections are rising at an unprecedented speed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.
Worries are growing about infections spreading so quickly that hospital systems may get stretched thin, he said.
He acknowledged additional action may be needed if the numbers of people shoot up, required to undergo quarantine or hospitalization.
About 80 percent of the Japanese population have received two vaccine shots, but only 1 percent the booster. The government has promised to speed up boosters, but most people won’t be getting them until after March or later, under the current schedule.
The third dose is recommended particularly against omicron, which is causing more breakthrough infections than early forms of the virus.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is keen on avoiding public discontent of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, widely seen as behind the ouster of the previous prime minister. Nationwide parliamentary elections will be held in a few months.
Bars and eateries that abide by the government restrictions are eligible for aid. But some say that hasn’t been enough.
More than 20,000 new cases were reported Monday nationwide, showing cases are rising quickly because of omicron. Most experts think the case tally is an undercount because testing is not widespread. Some 134,000 people are now quarantining or hospitalized for COVID-19.
About 18,400 people have died from COVID-19. The recently reported daily cases in Japan are approaching the record numbers hit in August and September last year.


Texas rabbi says he, 2 hostages escaped synagogue standoff

Texas rabbi says he, 2 hostages escaped synagogue standoff
Updated 18 January 2022

Texas rabbi says he, 2 hostages escaped synagogue standoff

Texas rabbi says he, 2 hostages escaped synagogue standoff
  • Hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville

COLLEYVILLE, US: The rabbi of a Texas synagogue where a gunman took hostages during livestreamed services said Monday that he threw a chair at his captor before escaping with two others after an hourslong standoff, crediting past security training for getting himself and his congregants out safely.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” that he let the gunman inside the suburban Fort Worth synagogue Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. Later, he heard a gun click as he was praying.
Another man held hostage, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described the ordeal on Facebook on Monday.
“First of all, we escaped. We weren’t released or freed,” said Cohen, who was one of four people in the synagogue for services that many other Congregation Beth Israel members were watching online.
Cohen said the men worked to keep the gunman engaged. They talked to the gunman, he lectured them. At one point as the situation devolved, Cohen said the gunman told them to get on their knees. Cohen recalled rearing up in his chair and slowly moving his head and mouthing “no.” As the gunman moved to sit back down, Cohen said Cytron-Walker yelled to run.
“The exit wasn’t too far away,” Cytron-Walker said. “I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”
Authorities identified the hostage-taker as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m.
The FBI on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the US The statement followed comments Saturday from the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office that the hostage-taker was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”
Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to Al-Qaeda who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.
“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings.”
At a service held Monday evening at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker said the amount of “well-wishes and kindness and compassion” has been been overwhelming.
“Thank you for all of the compassion, from the bottom of my heart,” Cytron-Walker said.
“While very few of us are doing OK right now, we’ll get through this,” he said.
Video of the standoff’s end from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard.
Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.
The investigation stretched to England, where late Sunday police in Manchester announced that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counter-terrorism officers had made the arrests but did not say whether the pair faced any charges.
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a weapon on the streets.
Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage-taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Akram arrived in the US at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.
Akram arrived in the US on a tourist visa from Great Britain, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with US authorities about the incident.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday that she had spoken to her US counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, and offered “the full support” of the police and security services in Britain in the investigation.
Akram used his phone during the course of negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Siddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth.
An attorney in Texas who represents Siddiqui said Monday that Siddiqui had no connections to Akram.
“She said from the beginning when she was sentenced that she does not want any violence done in her name and she doesn’t condone any type of violence being done,” said attorney Marwa Elbially.
Akram, who was called Faisal by his family, was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he’d been “suffering from mental health issues.”
“We would also like to add that any attack on any human being, be it a Jew, Christian or Muslim, etc. is wrong and should always be condemned,” his brother, Gulbar Akram, wrote.
Community organizer Asif Mahmud, who has known the family for 30 years and attends the same mosque, said the family was devastated by what happened in Texas.
He “had mental health issues for a number of years,” Mahmud said. “The family obviously were aware of that … but nobody envisaged he would potentially go and do something like this.”
Mohammed Khan, leader of the local government council in Blackburn, said the community promotes peace across all faiths.
“Ours is a town where people from different backgrounds, cultures and faiths are welcomed, and it is a place where people get along and support one another,’’ Khan said in a statement.
 


Major US airline CEOs warn 5G could ground some planes, wreak havoc

Major US airline CEOs warn 5G could ground some planes, wreak havoc
Updated 18 January 2022

Major US airline CEOs warn 5G could ground some planes, wreak havoc

Major US airline CEOs warn 5G could ground some planes, wreak havoc
  • FAA warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations
  • AT&T and Verizon on Jan. 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks

WASHINGTON: The chief executives of major US passenger and cargo carriers on Monday warned of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis in less than 36 hours, when AT&T and Verizon are set to deploy new 5G service.
The airlines warned the new C-Band 5G service set to begin on Wednesday could render a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable, “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas” and cause “chaos” for US flights.
“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” wrote the chief executives of American Airlines , Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others in a letter first reported by Reuters.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.
“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancelations, diversions or delays,” the letter https://twitter.com/davidshepardson/status/1483148794690740224?s=20 cautioned.
Airlines late on Monday were considering whether to begin canceling some international flights that are scheduled to arrive in the United States on Wednesday.
“With the proposed restrictions at selected airports, the transportation industry is preparing for some service disruption. We are optimistic that we can work across industries and with government to finalize solutions that safely mitigate as many schedule impacts as possible,” plane maker Boeing said on Monday.

Workers install 5G telecommunications equipment on a T-Mobile tower in Seabrook, Texas,on May 6, 2020. (REUTERS/File Photo)

Action is urgent, the airlines added in the letter also signed by UPS Airlines, Alaska Air, Atlas Air , JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express. “To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”
The letter went to White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
Airlines for America, the group that organized the letter, declined to comment. The government agencies did not immediately comment.

’Intervention is needed’
AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, on Jan. 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks and take other steps to cut potential interference for six months. They also agreed to delay deployment for two weeks until Wednesday, temporarily averting an aviation safety standoff, after previously delaying service by 30 days.
Verizon and AT&T declined comment on Monday.
The CEOs of major airlines and Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun held a lengthy call with Buttigieg and Dickson on Sunday to warn of the looming crisis, officials told Reuters.
The airlines ask “that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles (3.2 km) of airport runways” at some key airports.
“Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies,” they said.
The airlines added that flight restrictions will not be limited to poor weather operations.
“Multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed unusable causing a much larger problem than what we knew... Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.”
One area of concern is whether some Boeing 777s will be unable to land at some key US airports after 5G service starts, as well as some Boeing cargo planes, airline officials told Reuters. The airlines urged action to ensure “5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.”
The FAA said on Sunday it had cleared an estimated 45 percent of the US commercial airplane fleet to perform low-visibility landings at many airports where 5G C-band will be deployed and they expect to issue more approvals before Wednesday. The airlines noted on Monday that the list did not include many large airports. 


First death in Tonga volcano blast as nation remains cut off

A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022. (REUTERS)
A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 January 2022

First death in Tonga volcano blast as nation remains cut off

A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • The first known death in Tonga itself was confirmed: that of a British woman swept away by the tsunami

SYDNEY: The first death from a massive underwater volcanic blast near the Pacific island nation of Tonga has been confirmed, as the extent of the damage remained unknown Monday.
Tonga remained virtually cut off from the rest of the world, after the eruption crippled communications and stalled emergency relief efforts.
It is two days since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded, cloaking Tonga in a film of ash, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and releasing shock waves that wrapped around the entire Earth.
But with phone lines still down and an undersea Internet cable cut — and not expected to be repaired for weeks — the true toll of the dual eruption-tsunami disaster is not yet known.
The first known death in Tonga itself was confirmed: that of a British woman swept away by the tsunami. She was identified as Angela Glover, 50, who lived in the Tonga capital with her husband James, Glover’s brother Nick Eleini told British media.
Two women also drowned Saturday in northern Peru in big waves recorded after the volcanic blast, authorities there said.
Only fragments of information have filtered out via a handful of satellite phones on the islands, home to just over 100,000 people.
In one of the few communications with the outside world, two stranded Mexican marine biologists made a plea for help from their government, using a satellite phone provided by the British embassy to call their family.
“They said they were sheltering in a hotel near the airport and they asked us for help to leave the island,” Amelia Nava, the sister of 34-year-old Leslie Nava, told AFP in Mexico.
Tonga’s worried neighbors are still scrambling to grasp the scale of the damage, which New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern said was believed to be “significant.”
Both Wellington and Canberra scrambled reconnaissance planes Monday in an attempt to get a sense of the damage from the air.
And both have put C-130 military transport aircraft on standby to drop emergency supplies or to land if runways are deemed operational and ash clouds allow.
There are initial reports that areas of Tonga’s west coast may have been badly hit.
Australia’s international development minister, Zed Seselja, said a small contingent of Australian police stationed in Tonga had delivered a “pretty concerning” initial evaluation.
They were “able to do an assessment of some of the Western beaches area and there was some pretty significant damage to things like roads and some houses,” Seselja said.
“One of the good pieces of news is that I understand the airport has not suffered any significant damage,” he added.
“That will be very, very important as the ash cloud clears and we are able to have flights coming into Tonga for humanitarian purposes.”
Major aid agencies, who would usually rush in to provide emergency humanitarian relief, said they were stuck in a holding pattern, unable to contact local staff.
“From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense — especially for outlying islands,” said Katie Greenwood, IFRC’s Pacific Head of Delegation.
Even when relief efforts get under way, they may be complicated by Covid-19 entry restrictions. Tonga only recently reported its first-ever coronavirus case.

France, which has territories in the South Pacific, pledged to help the people of Tonga.
“France is willing to respond to the population’s most urgent needs,” the foreign ministry said. This assistance would be provided through a humanitarian aid mechanism with Australia and New Zealand that is known as FRANZ, the ministry added.
What is known is that Saturday’s volcanic blast was one the largest recorded in decades, erupting 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) into the air and depositing ash, gas and acid rain across a swathe of the Pacific.
The eruption was recorded around the world and heard as far away as Alaska, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States.
The Tongan capital Nuku’alofa was estimated to be cloaked in 1-2 centimeters of ash, potentially poisoning water supplies and causing breathing difficulties.
“We know water is an immediate need,” Ardern told reporters.
After speaking to the New Zealand embassy in Tonga, she described how boats and “large boulders” washed ashore.
Wellington’s defense minister said he understood the island nation had managed to restore power in “large parts” of the city.
But communications were still cut. The eruption severed an undersea communications cable between Tonga and Fiji that operators said would take weeks to repair.
“We’re getting sketchy information, but it looks like the cable has been cut,” Southern Cross Cable Network’s networks director Dean Veverka told AFP.
“It could take up to two weeks to get it repaired. The nearest cable-laying vessel is in Port Moresby,” he added, referring to the Papua New Guinea capital more than 4,000 kilometers from Tonga.
Tonga was isolated for two weeks in 2019 when a ship’s anchor cut the cable. A small, locally operated satellite service was set up to allow minimal contact with the outside world until the cable could be repaired.


Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy

Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy
Updated 18 January 2022

Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy

Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy
  • The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province

THE HAGUE: Dutch police late Monday discovered the body of a Belgian child, whose disappearance five days ago sparked a massive search spanning two countries.
The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province after a man was arrested elsewhere in the Netherlands earlier during the day, police said.
“We thank everybody who helped and are sending condolences to his family,” they added.
Police said the body was discovered at Neeltje Jans, an island that forms part of the Oosterschelde flood barrier and is popular with Dutch tourists.
Police earlier on Monday also sent out a so-called Amber Alert — issued in child abduction cases — with the description of the toddler and a picture.
The alert came after police arrested a 34-year-old Belgian man in the town of Meerkerk, south of Utrecht, about 120 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Neeltje Jans.
Verberckmoes was last seen in the Belgian city of Sint Niklaas near Antwerp on Wednesday in the company of the man, only identified as Dave De K., the NOS public broadcaster reported.
De K. regularly minded Dean and his younger sister, the toddler’s mother told the Belga news agency.
The man was supposed to take the child to his grandparents on Thursday and when that did not happen the mother reported him missing.
Dutch police launched a massive search after at became known that De K. and the toddler may be in the Netherlands.
“The police investigation pointed to a possible crime scene on Monday evening... and a police helicopter also joined the search,” Dutch police said.
“Around 10.00 p.m. (2100 GMT) the lifeless body of a child was found,” police said.