Philippines reports first cases of omicron variant

Philippines reports first  cases of omicron variant
A health worker prepares a dose of vaccine for protection against COVID-19 at a cinema turned into a temporary vaccination site in Manila. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 December 2021

Philippines reports first cases of omicron variant

Philippines reports first  cases of omicron variant
  • The two omicron variant cases are incoming travelers and are currently isolated in a facility managed by the Bureau of Quarantine

MANILA: Philippine health authorities reported the country’s first omicron variant infections on Wednesday, found in two travelers who had entered the country from abroad.

After the new strain of the coronavirus disease was detected in South Africa last month, the Philippines suspended its plans to reopen to foreign tourists ahead of the holiday season.

The omicron variant has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, as its mutations may lead to higher transmissibility, and some evidence suggests that it evades vaccine protection.

The two people in whom the new COVID-19 variant was detected on Tuesday are isolating in a quarantine facility, the Department of Health said in a statement.

HIGHLIGHTS

•One person infected with the new strain of COVID-19 was fully vaccinated.

•The Philippines suspended its plans to reopen for foreign tourists over virus fears last month

“The two omicron variant cases are incoming travelers and are currently isolated in a facility managed by the Bureau of Quarantine,” it said.

“The DoH is determining possible close contacts among co-passengers during the flights of these two cases.”

One of the infected people is a 48-year-old Filipino returning from Japan on a Philippine Airlines flight on Dec. 1. The other is a 37-year-old Nigerian national who arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 30 on an Oman Air flight. Both are currently asymptomatic.

“One is fully vaccinated, and the other is not vaccinated,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters.

The Department of Health appealed to the public to continue proper mask wearing and to be conscious of observing health measures as the holiday season draws near.

The number of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines has been steadily falling since mid-September, when it recorded over 26,000 new cases at its peak due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of the virus.

For the past week, the Southeast Asian nation of 110 million has been recording fewer than 300 new cases a day, with 237 reported on Wednesday.

With the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant, the Department of Health called on the public to get vaccinated.

So far 42 million Filipinos have received two vaccine doses, as the country aims to fully vaccinate 54 million individuals by the end of the year.

 


Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts

Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts
Updated 9 sec ago

Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts

Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts

PARIS: Despite warnings, Australia’s efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef still fall short of protecting the world’s largest coral reef system from pollution and climate change, experts said on Monday.

Australia had taken unprecedented steps towards the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, which the United Nations has designated a world heritage site, but more was needed to avoid the site being declared “in danger” by UNESCO, the UN agency which compiles and manages a list of heritage sites.

Such a designation puts a government on notice that a site could be removed from the World Heritage list altogether, a very rare event.

“Despite the unparalleled science and management efforts” made by Australia over recent years, the Great Barrier Reef is “significantly impacted by climate change factors,” Eleanor Carter at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNESCO representative Hans Thulstrup said in a report based on a mission to the Reef.

“The resilience of the property to recover from climate change impacts is substantially compromised,” they said.

Carter and Thulstrup recommended that the reef should be added to the “World Heritage in Danger” list.

The Australian government in January announced a billion-dollar package to protect the reef, seven years after its “Reef 2050” plan, already a response to a UN downgrade threat.

The Climate Council pressure group said this latest package of funding was like putting “a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”

Monday’s report echoed that assessment, saying the reef’s ability to recover from climate change impacts was “substantially compromised.”

In particular, Australian strategies were “lacking clear climate change targets,” while some measures were not fully implemented, especially concerning “water quality and fisheries activities,” it said.

Australia reported in May that 91 percent of the reef’s coral had been damaged by bleaching after a prolonged summer heat wave, a process that increases the mortality rates of the affected corals.

After intense lobbying, Australia narrowly avoided the Reef being placed on UNESCO’s “in danger” list in the summer of 2021.

The then-government of conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison was voted out this year in favor of a center-left government under Anthony Albanese who has promised greener policies.

A UNESCO spokesperson told AFP that “a constructive dialogue is ongoing with the current government.”

A source close to the matter called Monday’s report “a roadmap submitted to the Australian government which should say what it intends to do with it and produce results.”

The source added: “The path to saving the Great Barrier Reef is narrow, but it exists. Strong and rapid action can produce results.”


Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege
Updated 3 min 8 sec ago

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege
  • Somalian security forces, who are trained by the US and Turkey, were under orders to “eliminate” the militants
  • Mohamed Sayid Hassan Elmi, who lives in Birmingham, was named locally as one of the victims at Villa Rose hotel

MOGADISHU: Somali security forces stormed a hotel in the capital on Monday to end a near day-long siege by Al-Shabab militants who killed nine people at the building near the president’s residence in the capital, police said.

A Briton is reported to have died in the siege, where Somalian security forces, who are trained by the US and Turkey, were under orders to “eliminate” the militants who stormed it yesterday.

Mohamed Sayid Hassan Elmi, who lives in Birmingham, was named locally as one of the victims at Villa Rose Hotel.

Gunfire crackled from inside the hotel as the special forces fought the militants more than 12 hours after the Islamist group stormed the building in the center of Mogadishu.
A police spokesperson said 60 civilians had been rescued, while a government minister said he and others had kicked down a door to escape after being caught in the hotel following evening prayers when a suicide bomber struck and the gunbattle broke out.
The assault underscores the continuing ability of the Al-Qaeda-allied militants to stage deadly attacks with sometimes high casualties inside the city even as President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government presses an offensive against them.
“The operation at the hotel Rose has been concluded,” Sadik Aden Ali, the police spokesperson said, referring to the Villa Rose hotel where the siege occurred.
Ali said the militants had killed eight civilians and later added that one soldier had also died in the siege. Five soldiers were injured, he said.
Six Al-Shabab fighters had been involved in the attack, with one blowing himself up and five shot dead by the security forces, Ali said.
Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab, which controls swathes of the country, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that it was targeting the nearby presidential palace.
Al Shabab, which is seeking to topple the government and establish its own rule based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, frequently stages attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.
Government officials in Mogadishu often use the Villa Rose hotel for meetings. Some officials also live there.
Somalia’s environment minister Adam Aw Hirsi said the assault on the hotel, where he lives, began with a deafening explosion by a suicide bomber who was followed by militants on foot to breach the perimeter of the heavily guarded hotel.
“I had exited the hotel mosque where we performed the evening prayer in congregation when the explosion hit. The roof of the VIP room I was in flew and glasses shattered far and wide,” Hirsi told Reuters, describing the scene of the attack.
“Then bullets rained in all directions,” he said, adding that he, a friend and another minister fled the building through a back exit. “Many people followed us to the exit, we broke the door with collective kicks and we exited to safety,” he said.
Asked what the government would do next, he said there was no turning back and the government would “not let up the fight.”
Somalia government forces, supported by clan militias and, at times, African Union troops and US air strikes, have made a number of battlefield gains in an offensive against Al-Shabab over the last three months.
The US military has conducted several air strikes against the Al-Shabab this year, but it was not clear whether it was involved in Monday’s battle.
Despite being pushed back, Al-Shabab has still been able to stage large attacks on both civilian and military targets.
In October two car bombs exploded at Somalia’s education ministry next to a busy market intersection, killing at least 120 people. It was the deadliest attack since a truck bomb exploded at the same intersection in October 2017, killing more than 500 people.
Somalia’s parliament said it had postponed a scheduled session for both of its houses on Monday as the siege unfolded.


Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center
Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center
  • Major fire at JIC in late October destroyed dome of grand mosque
  • Islamic centers with ‘significant role’ in promoting tolerant Islam

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have thanked Saudi Arabia after its pledge to finance the restoration of the Jakarta Islamic Center.

The announcement, which was made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, has reaffirmed the close and important relations between the two countries.

A major fire broke out at JIC in late October, destroying the iconic dome of a grand mosque located at the complex.

The crown prince announced the Kingdom’s financing of the center’s restoration earlier this month, and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the planned restoration “confirms his keenness and interest in Islamic centers in all brotherly and friendly countries.” 

Saudi’s financial help is expected to help speed up the restoration process which, according to the center’s management, could have taken as long as five years without assistance.

Paimun Abdul Karim, spokesman of JIC’s management, told Arab News: “We are very grateful for such help from the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We are filled with thanks because it means the restoration will be faster.

“His action shows the solidarity between Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia’s plan to help us shows the good relations between the Saudi and Indonesian governments, and it will bring great benefits for us.

“This is another way to open up JIC’s diplomacy and connection to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

JIC’s work has centered on the promotion of tolerant and moderate Islam, with the complex housing not only a grand mosque, but also a research studies center and a conference hall which hosts various programs and gatherings.

Eko Hartono, Indonesia’s consul general in Jeddah, told Arab News that the support offered by Saudi Arabia “reaffirmed the closeness of friendly relations” between Jakarta and Riyadh.

He added: “Saudi’s assistance also reaffirms the country’s commitment to help the Muslim world and glory of Islam in every part of the world, including Indonesia.”

Marzuki Abubakar, researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, said Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has always had a very close relationship with the Kingdom.

He told Arab News: “Islam in Indonesia certainly has its own unique characteristics that have captured the world’s attention, and this has led to campaigns for religious tolerance and moderation, which are also important for Saudi Arabia.

“This is why Saudi Arabia’s participation in supporting programs related to tolerance and moderation, including at the Jakarta Islamic Center, has become very important.”


Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
Updated 28 November 2022

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
  • Group of 50 Conservatives demands prime minister removes ‘loopholes’ in asylum law
  • Organization says returning trafficked people is likely to ‘deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again’

LONDON: A row is brewing in the UK after Amnesty International condemned a group of Conservative MPs who called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to return Albanian asylum-seekers to their home country — including those claiming to be victims of human trafficking.

The UK has witnessed a marked increase in the number of Albanians coming to the country in the past 12 months, with many who cross the English Channel in small boats claiming they have been trafficked, and are victims of modern slavery.

The group of more than 50 politicians said moves to expedite the process of deporting Albanians was necessary to dissuade migrants from making the journey from what, they said, was a safe country, and reduce significant backlogs in the UK’s asylum process.

In a letter to Sunak, the MPs said: “If they (asylum-seekers) have really been taken (to the UK) against their will, then they could not reasonably object to being returned to their own homes.

“The quirks in our modern slavery laws that prevent this are clearly in defiance of the aims of that law and should be removed.”

David Davis MP, one of the signatories, told Sky News: “The Home Office itself has not been interpreting the asylum laws correctly. The point is to turn the turnaround time for an Albanian landing on our shores from years to days or weeks.

“That’s the aim and we think it’s possible. If we don’t do it, the Home Office is never going to be able to cope with the number of applications. It’s already 420 days to get a decision. It’d be longer and longer.”

He added that fear of persecution by smugglers and criminal gangs should not enable people to claim asylum.

“I’m not scapegoating the individual Albanians. What I want to do is to close those loopholes,” he said.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International’s UK refugee and migrant rights program director, criticized Davis, telling The Guardian: “There does seem to be quite a lot of nonsense here.

“The starting point is whether your government is unwilling or unable to provide protection from persecution. It doesn’t set out who your persecutors have to be.

“It could be organized crime, or a blood feud. It can also be women who are persecuted by their own families. The question is whether the state is both able and willing to provide the protections that it is expected under international law to provide.”

He added: “Not every survivor of human trafficking is necessarily unsafe to be returned, but returning someone to where they were trafficked from is likely to deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again, unless there is some significant improvement to their circumstances in that place.”


WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
Updated 28 November 2022

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
  • Bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name
  • Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year

GENEVA: Monkeypox is to be renamed mpox in English, the World Health Organization announced Monday, in a bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name.”
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year, from 110 countries.