Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads
So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travelers arriving from overseas. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2022

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads
  • China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections
  • Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday

BEIJING: Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Lunar New Year holiday travel season started on Monday, requiring travelers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.
Authorities have warned the highly contagious omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1.
Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday travelers need to report to communities, employers or hotels their trips three days ahead of arrival.
The southwestern city of Yulin said on Saturday those who want to enter should fill in an online form, including their health credentials and trip details, one day in advance.
Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub Shenzhen each detected one domestically transmitted omicron case.
The possibility that the omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can’t be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority, said on Monday.
Li Ang, vice director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.
The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.
So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travelers arriving from overseas.
China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6 percent. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighboring Hebei province starting Feb. 4.
Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.
China’s aviation regulator said on Monday it would suspend two flights from the United States over COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of canceled flights this year from the country, where omicron is spreading, to 76.
China reported 163 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptom for Sunday, official data showed on Monday, up from 65 a day earlier.
Sunday’s increase in infections was mainly driven by more cases in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where omicron has been found in local clusters.
Tianjin and Anyang reported slightly more than 600 local symptomatic infections from the current outbreaks, smaller than many clusters overseas, but authorities there still have limited movement within the cities and trips to outside.


Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port

Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port
Updated 5 sec ago

Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port

Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port
Khartoum: Firefighters have contained a large blaze that erupted in a cargo area of the Sudanese Red Sea port of Suakin, the port’s director said Thursday.
The fire, which raged for hours, broke out in the cargo drop off area of the port on Wednesday sending plumes of acrid smoke into the sky.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.
“The fire has been brought under control following the intervention of civil defense forces and port workers,” port director Taha Ahmed Mokhtar said.
He said an investigation had been launched to determine the cause of the fire, and a commission set up to assess the scale of the losses.
A port official, who spoke on condition of annonymity, had earlier described the damage as “catastrophic.”
The blaze at the port came as Sudan is gripped by a chronic economic crisis which deepened after last year’s military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
The military takeover triggered punitive measures, including aid cuts by Western governments, who demanded the restoration of the transitional administration installed after the 2019 ouster of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir.
The historic port town of Suakin is no longer Sudan’s main foreign trade hub, a role which has been taken by Port Sudan, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) away along the Red Sea coast.
But there have been moves to redevelop the port.
Bashir’s government signed a deal with Turkey in 2017 to restore the historic buildings of Suakin island and expand its docks, but the agreement has been suspended since his overthrow.

8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official

8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official
Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 May 2022

8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official

8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official
  • Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000

Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik was quoted by TASS news agency as saying on Thursday.
“There are a lot of prisoners. Of course, there are more of them on the territory of Donetsk People’s Republic, but we also have enough, and now the total number is somewhere in the region of 8,000. That’s a lot, and literally hundreds are being added every day,” Miroshnik said.
Reuters was not able to verify the report.


11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire
Updated 26 May 2022

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire
  • The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal
  • In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed

DAKAR: Eleven newborn babies died in a hospital fire in the western Senegalese city of Tivaouane, the president of the country said late Wednesday.
Just before midnight in Senegal, Macky Sall announced on Twitter that 11 infants had died in the blaze.
“I have just learned with pain and dismay about the deaths of 11 newborn babies in the fire at the neonatal department of the public hospital,” he tweeted.
“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy,” Sall added.
The tragedy occurred at Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in the transport hub of Tivaouane, and was caused by “a short circuit,” according to Senegalese politician Diop Sy.
“The fire spread very quickly,” he said.
The city’s mayor Demba Diop said “three babies were saved.”
According to local media, the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital was newly inaugurated.
Health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was in Geneva attending a meeting with the World Health Organization, said he would return to Senegal immediately.
“This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful,” he said on radio. “An investigation is under way to see what happened.”
The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal, where there is great disparity between urban and rural areas in health care services.
In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed. The mayor of that town had cited an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward.
Wednesday’s accident also comes over a month after the nation mourned the death of a pregnant woman who waited in vain for a Caesarean section.
The woman, named Astou Sokhna, had arrived at a hospital in the northern city of Louga in pain. The staff had refused to accommodate her request for a C-section, saying that it was not scheduled.
She died April 1, 20 hours after she arrived.
Sokhna’s death caused a wave of outrage across the country on the dire state of Senegal’s public health system, and health minister Sarr acknowledged two weeks later that the death could have been avoided.
Three midwives — on duty the night Sokhna died — were sentenced on May 11 by the High Court of Louga to six months of suspended imprisonment for “failure to assist a person in danger” in connection to her case.
Amnesty International’s Senegal director Seydi Gassama said his organization had called for an inspection and upgrade for neonatology services in hospitals across Senegal after the “atrocious” death of the four babies in Linguere.
With Wednesday’s fresh tragedy, Amnesty “urges the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the culprits, no matter the level they are at in the state apparatus,” he tweeted.
Opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo also responded with outrage to the Tivaouane blaze that killed the babies.
“More babies burned in a public hospital... this is unacceptable @MackySall,” he said.
“We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough.”


Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly
Updated 26 May 2022

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly
  • Onlookers begged police gathered outside the school building to rush in urgently
  • Authorities say about 40 minutes elapsed from when Ramos opened fire to when he was shot dead

UVALDE, US: Frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the Texas elementary school where a gunman’s rampage killed 19 children and two teachers, witnesses said Wednesday, as investigators worked to track the massacre that lasted upwards of 40 minutes and ended when the 18-year-old shooter was killed by a Border Patrol team.
“Go in there! Go in there!” nearby women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who saw the scene from outside his house, across the street from Robb Elementary School in the close-knit town of Uvalde. Carranza said the officers did not go in.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside the building.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They were unprepared,” he added.
Minutes earlier, Carranza had watched as Salvador Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a nearby funeral home who ran away uninjured.
Officials say he “encountered” a school district security officer outside the school, though there were conflicting reports from authorities on whether the men exchanged gunfire. After running inside, he fired on two arriving Uvalde police officers who were outside the building, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine. The police officers were injured.
After entering the school, Ramos charged into one classroom and began to kill.
He “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
All those killed were in the same classroom, he said.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told reporters that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him, though a department spokesman said later that they could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school or when he was killed.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.
“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.
Uvalde is a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third and fourth grades, is a single-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared, authorities said.
Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.
Ramos ran out the front door and across the small yard to the truck parked in front of the house. He seemed panicked, Gallegos said, and had trouble getting the truck out of park.
Then he raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air.
His grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.
Gallegos, whose wife called 911, said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, who he rarely saw.
Investigators also shed no light on Ramos’ motive for the attack, which also left at least 17 people wounded. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Ramos, a resident of the small town about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
“We don’t see a motive or catalyst right now,” said McCraw of the Department of Public Safety.
Ramos legally bought the rifle and a second one like it last week, just after his birthday, authorities said.
About a half-hour before the mass shooting, Ramos sent the first of three online messages warning about his plans, Abbott said.
Ramos wrote that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then that he had shot the woman. In the last note, sent about 15 minutes before he reached Robb Elementary, he said he was going to shoot up an elementary school, according to Abbott. Investigators said Ramos did not specify which school.
Ramos sent the private, one-to-one text messages via Facebook, said company spokesman Andy Stone.
Grief engulfed Uvalde as the details emerged.
The dead included Eliahna Garcia, an outgoing 10-year-old who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth-grader, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department.
“You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” Uvalde Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell said, fighting back tears as he recalled the children and teachers killed.
The tragedy was the latest in a seemingly unending wave of mass shootings across the US in recent years. Just 10 days earlier, 10 Black people were shot to death in a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
The attack was the deadliest school shooting in the US since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
Amid calls for tighter restrictions on firearms, the Republican governor repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among Texas young people and argued that tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York and California are ineffective.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor, interrupted Wednesday’s news conference, calling the tragedy “predictable.” Pointing his finger at Abbott, he said: “This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen.” O’Rourke was escorted out as some in the room yelled at him. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin yelled that O’Rourke was a “sick son of a bitch.”
Texas has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation and has been the site of some of the deadliest shootings in the US over the past five years.
“I just don’t know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old,” Siria Arizmendi, the aunt of victim Eliahna Garcia, said angrily through tears. “What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?”
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that “the Second Amendment is not absolute” as he called for new limitations on guns in the wake of the massacre.
But the prospects for reform of the nation’s gun regulations appeared dim. Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other curbs have run into Republican opposition in Congress.
The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston, with the Texas governor and both of the state’s Republican US senators scheduled to speak.
Dillon Silva, whose nephew was in a classroom, said students were watching the Disney movie “Moana” when they heard several loud pops and a bullet shattered a window. Moments later, their teacher saw the attacker stride past.
“Oh, my God, he has a gun!” the teacher shouted twice, according to Silva. “The teacher didn’t even have time to lock the door,” he said.
The close-knit community, built around a shaded central square, includes many families who have lived there for generations.
Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.
But that night, her niece had a question.
“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
 


G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies

G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies
Updated 26 May 2022

G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies

G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track as Ukraine war roils energy supplies

BERLIN: Ministers from the world’s wealthiest democracies will wrangle over how to keep climate change goals on track as they meet in Berlin on Thursday for talks overshadowed by spiralling energy costs and fuel supply worries sparked by the war in Ukraine.
Energy, climate and environment ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries want to reaffirm a commitment to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius and protect biodiversity at the May 25-27 meeting.
The group will also consider committing to a phase-out of coal power generation by 2030, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters, though sources suggested that opposition from the United States and Japan could derail such a pledge.
The draft, which could change considerably by the time talks conclude on Friday, would also commit G7 countries to have a “net zero electricity sector by 2035” and to start reporting publicly next year on how they are delivering on a past G7 commitment to end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has triggered a scramble among some countries to buy more non-Russian fossil fuels and burn coal to cut their reliance on Russian supplies, raising fears that the energy crisis triggered by the war could undermine efforts to fight climate change.
Campaigners urged the ministers of the G7 to make clear commitments that the fallout of the Ukraine war would not derail their targets.
“We have a new reality now. The G7 need to respond to that, and they should respond through renewables, and not through fossil fuel infrastructure,” said David Ryfisch, climate policy expert at non-profit Germanwatch.
While seeking consensus on an oil embargo on Russia, the European Union is pushing to accelerate the bloc’s pivot to renewable energy while finding fossil fuel alternatives to Russian supplies.
Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate think-tank E3G, said tackling climate change was the best and quickest way for countries to achieve energy security.
“Climate impacts are worse than scientists originally predicted and there’s far worse ahead if we don’t cut emissions rapidly,” Meyer said. “Delivering on climate promises really becomes even more vital in this tense geopolitical environment.”
Ahead of the meeting, the B7 group of leading business and industry federations of the G7 states called on the group to back a plan along the lines of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s “climate club” to harmonize standards on emissions and CO2 pricing.
Scholz had suggested the idea to try to avoid trade friction in areas including green tariffs, the development of markets for decarbonized products, carbon pricing and removal methods.