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Posted by Ukrap on

Українцям прогнозують холодні вихідні зі снігом та ожеледицею

У суботу вдень переважно без опадів, а у неділю сніг та ще й подекуди з дощем

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У Криму звільнили координатора «Кримської солідарності», утримуваного в ізоляторі понад 20 діб

В окупованому Сімферополі ввечері 17 грудня звільнили громадського захисника та координатора «Кримської солідарності» Мустафу Сейдалієва, який відбув адміністративний арешт за допис у соцмережі, датований 2012 роком. Про це проєкту Радіо Свобода «Крим.Реалії» повідомили активісти «Кримської солідарності».

Перші 14 діб Сейдалієв перебував в ізоляторі Євпаторії, ще 10 – в ІТТ Сімферополя.

17 грудня підконтрольний Росії Верховний суд Криму визнав «законним» адмінарешт Сейдалієва за допис кількарічної давності.

Раніше рішеннями підконтрольного Росії Кіровського районного суду Криму Сейдалієва визнали винним у скоєнні адміністративних правопорушень за статтею про «виробництво та розповсюдження екстремістських матеріалів», йому призначили покарання у вигляді адмінарешту на 10 діб за кожним протоколом.

Сейдалієва звинуватили у тому, що у 2012 році у соцмережі «ВКонтакте» він розмістив відеозапис, який є в російському списку екстремістських матеріалів.

Координатора «Кримської солідарності» не випустили на волю після закінчення першого терміну адміністративного арешту 7 грудня і відправили в ізолятор ще на 10 діб.

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Росія: у Санкт-Петербурзі загорівся військовий корабель, є постраждалі

Як повідомляють російські ЗМІ, вогнем охопило корвет «Проворный», який мали передати Міноборони

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Poland Pushes Controversial Media Law Though Parliament, Angering US

Poland’s parliament passed a media bill on Friday that critics say aims to silence a news channel critical of the government, in an unexpected move that will stoke concern over media freedom and reopen a diplomatic dispute with the United States. 

Critics say the legislation will affect the ability of news channel TVN24, owned by U.S. media company Discovery Inc., to operate because it tightens the rules around foreign ownership of media in Poland. 

The vote sours relations with the U.S., Poland’s most powerful ally, at a time of heightened tension in Eastern Europe over an increasingly assertive Russia. 

Lawmakers had not been scheduled to vote on the bill, but after a committee convened at short notice to discuss the issue, it ended up on the agenda and was voted through in a matter of minutes. 

The passing of the bill at breakneck speed just before the Christmas break is a success for the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party, as whether it could command enough votes to pass the contested legislation had been in question. 

The bill must be now signed by President Andrzej Duda to become law. The president, an ally of the government, has previously said that takeovers of foreign-owned media groups should take place on market terms and not with forced solutions, in a sign he could use his power to veto the bill. 

“The bill … will of course be analyzed by us, and the appropriate decision will be made. I have already talked about the point of view from which I will assess the bill,” Duda told reporters on Friday. 

Bix Aliu, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Warsaw, called on Duda to “protect free speech and business.” 

“The United States is extremely disappointed by today’s passage of the media bill,” Aliu wrote on Twitter. 

Opposition lawmakers said the manner in which the committee was convened was illegal and breached democratic standards. 

Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, deputy head of the committee and a member of the opposition Left grouping, said members had been told to attend by text message 24 minutes before the sitting, when rules state they should be informed three days before. 

Foreign ownership 

TVN24’s parent, TVN, is owned by Discovery via a firm registered in the Netherlands in order to get around a ban on non-European firms owning more than 49% of Polish media companies. The bill passed by parliament on Friday would prevent this workaround. 

The management board of TVN Grupa Discovery called the vote “an unprecedented attack on the free media” and said in a statement that the company was “determined to defend their investments in Poland.” 

Corporate parent Discovery issued a separate statement, saying the parliamentary vote “should alarm any enterprise investing in Poland,” and called on Duda to veto the legislation. 

The Law and Justice party has long argued that foreign media groups have too much influence in Poland, distorting public debate. The party says the bill aims to stop countries such as Russia or China from gaining influence over Polish media. 

Law and Justice lawmaker Joanna Lichocka said in a statement, “The rule limiting non-European capital in the media is in line with European law and is valid in many EU countries. This rule has been in force in Poland for years — the amendment seals it up and makes it impossible to circumvent it.” 

Critics say that moves against foreign media groups seek to limit media freedom and are part of an increasingly authoritarian agenda that has already put Warsaw at loggerheads with Brussels over LGBT rights and over changes to the judiciary that the EU says undermine the independence of courts. 

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Denmark Proposes New Lockdown Measures Amid World Omicron Spread

Denmark proposed new lockdown measures Friday to curb the alarming spread of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, as other European countries consider imposing travel and other restrictions to stem the variant’s spread.

The new variant has fueled infections in Britain close to the peak levels of early 2021, while other European countries and the United States are also experiencing surges.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a news conference the restrictions, which need parliamentary approval, would include crowd limits in stores, the closure of theaters, other entertainment venues and conference centers, and a mandatory mask requirement in most public places.

The Danish government reported 11,559 omicron cases Friday – a sharp increase from a day earlier – and said the new variant, which is more transmissible than earlier variants, now accounts for one-fifth of new cases reported daily.

Ireland and Germany were also considering further restrictions just days before Christmas and other holiday festivities begin in earnest. Earlier this week, France restricted travel to and from Britain, where omicron is surging.

A German Health Ministry spokesperson said the government could announce later Friday that travelers to Germany from Britain would be required to quarantine for two weeks. The restrictions are being considered as German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach predicted Friday the omicron variant would spark a “massive fifth wave” of the pandemic.

Portugal’s health minister warned Friday that omicron cases were doubling every two days and could account for 80% of all new cases by the end of December, much higher than the current rate of about 20%.

The country’s official count Friday was 69 confirmed cases. Portugal has one of the world’s highest rates of vaccination against COVID-19.

In Australia on Friday, authorities hurried to track down hundreds of people who attended a Taylor Swift album release party in Sydney last week. The party has blown into a super-spreader event, propelling new infections that include the omicron variant to a new pandemic high for the second straight day.

In India on Friday, the health ministry reported a total of 101 cases of the omicron variant and that some districts were showing a rise in overall infections.

More than 5.3 million people have died of COVID-19 globally since the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, almost two years ago, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Vaccines

The center reported more than 8.6 billion doses of vaccines had been administered worldwide as of mid-day Friday, a massive logistical campaign complicated by omicron’s surge.

Several countries are racing to accelerate vaccination campaigns as mounting evidence supports the need for booster doses to combat the omicron variant.

A vaccine developed in India, Covovax, was granted emergency approval Friday by the World Health Organization. WHO vaccines chief Mariangela Simao said the approval “aims to increase access particularly to lower-income countries.”

In Europe, European Union governments agreed to order more than 180 million doses of a BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine adapted for omicron, the head of the European Commission said.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday the government plans to accelerate booster shots to around 31 million vulnerable people. He also said he spoke Friday with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about oral treatments.

South Africa, which first identified the omicron variant, said Friday it would donate about 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to other African countries next year via a medical supplies platform established by the African Union.

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Арахамія назвав «головний провал» Верховної Ради в 2021-му

«Не встигаємо в цьому році проголосувати про накопичувальну пенсію. Мені здається, це головний провал, тому що це стосується кожного з вас»

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Немає великої трагедії у тому, що західні партнери допускають діалог з Росією – голова Місії України при НАТО

Голова Місії України при НАТО Наталія Галібаренко переконана, що НАТО в діалозі з Росією буде стояти на боці України

Posted by Worldkrap on

Russia Publishes Details of Security Proposal With West

Russia published draft details Friday of a security package it has sent the United States and NATO allies, which calls for restrictions on western military activity in Europe, as well as a halt to expansion by the alliance into eastern Europe.

The security proposal, submitted to the U.S. and its allies earlier this week, also calls for a ban on the deployment of U.S. and Russian warships and aircraft to areas from where they can strike each other’s territory.

Many of the demands, such as a ban on NATO membership for Ukraine, already have been rejected by the U.S. and NATO, who have warned Russia not to invade Ukraine, as tens of thousands of Russian forces remain massed along the border.

Speaking Friday in Brussels, at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged receiving the security proposal, saying any dialogue with Russia also would need to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners such as Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said NATO allies have also made clear that if Russia would take concrete steps to reduce tensions in the region, they “are prepared to work on strengthening confidence-building measures.”

Following the publishing of the draft proposal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov spoke to reporters in Moscow, and indicated Moscow is ready to negotiate.

Ryabkov told reporters, “We are ready to immediately, even tomorrow—literally tomorrow, on Saturday, December 18—to go for talks with the U.S. in a third country.” He said Russia has suggested Geneva to U.S. officials.

Ryabkov also said Russia’s relations with the U.S. and its NATO allies have approached a “dangerous point,” noting that alliance deployments and drills near Russia have raised “unacceptable” threats to its security.

For its part, the Biden administration this week signaled Moscow will pay a “terrible price” should it invade Ukraine due to what U.S. President Joe Biden has described as devastating sanctions.

“Our objective continues to be to keep this on a diplomatic path and for that to lead to de-escalation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.

And U.S. lawmakers have called for the White House to speed up the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, including ship-to-shore missiles, air defense missiles and additional Javelin anti-tank missiles in hopes of staving off a Russian invasion.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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After Whistleblower Disclosures, Facebook Faces an Uncertain Future

After internal Facebook documents were shared widely with news organizations, the question remains whether and how Facebook will change. Michelle Quinn reports.

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LA School Board Fires 500 Employees Lacking COVID Shot

The Los Angeles Unified School District has fired nearly 500 employees for refusing to comply with the district mandate that they receive COVID-19 vaccine shots. The decision by the second-largest school district in the U.S. came in a vote in early December, as Angelina Bagdasaryan reports from Los Angeles in this story narrated by Anna Rice.

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China-Russia Collaboration in Space Poses Challenge for West

China and Russia have begun collaborating on technology to rival the United States’ GPS and European Galileo satellite navigation systems, as the two countries pursue closer military and strategic ties.

Earlier this year, China agreed to host ground monitoring stations for Russia’s GLONASS positioning system on its soil, which improves global range and accuracy but can pose a security risk. In turn, Russia agreed to host ground stations for China’s BeiDou system.

The reciprocal agreement indicates a growing level of trust and cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, says analyst Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow and chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“Russia’s schism with the West and deepening confrontation and competition between China and the U.S. as two superpowers is definitely contributing to rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing. There is a natural economic complementarity where Russia has (an) abundance of natural resources, and China has capital and technology to develop those resources. And finally, both are authoritarian states, so they don’t have this allergy when talking domestic political setup, or the poisoning of (Russian opposition leader) Alexi Navalny, or issues like Hong Kong or human rights in Xinjiang,” Gabuev told VOA.

It will take some time for the collaboration on satellite navigation systems to be felt on the ground.

“So far, we have yet to see important results, because in Russia, Russia still relies increasingly on GLONASS but also on GPS. We don’t have major BeiDou-linked projects,” Gabuev added.

Satellites

Satellites are seen as a crucial component of 21st century military power. Last month, Russia tested a missile against one of its own satellites. The U.S. said the resulting debris threatened astronauts on the International Space Station.

“What’s most troubling about that is the danger that it creates for the international community. It undermines strategic stability,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters Nov. 17.

Russia, China and the U.S. are among several nations developing hypersonic missiles, which travel through the upper atmosphere at up to five times the speed of sound.

Space treaty

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. had failed to engage on a joint Russian-Chinese space treaty.

“They have ignored for many years the initiative of Russia and China to prepare a treaty to prevent an arms race in space. They simply ignore it, insisting instead on developing some sort of universal rules,” Lavrov said.

In an interview June 11 with U.S. broadcaster NBC, Russian President Vladimir Putin said cooperation with Beijing was deepening.

“We have been working and will continue to work with China, which applies to all kinds of programs, including exploring deep space. And I think there is nothing but positive information here. Frankly, I don’t see any contradictions here,” Putin said.

There are limits to Russian and Chinese cooperation, Gabuev said.

“Both Russia and China are religious about their strategic autonomy. There is deep-seated nationalism, there is some level of mistrust and some level of competition in many of those areas where there is seeming complementarity, like space programs. I think that these advances in military technology is happening mostly in parallel, but not jointly.”

India

Gabuev notes that Russia has worked more closely with India than China, including on the development of the joint BrahMos cruise missile system since the 1990s.

“Russia felt secure enough to develop BrahMos missiles together with Indian colleagues. So, this military cooperation between Russia and China is deepening, it’s definitely causing a significant challenge to the West, particularly because it helps the PLA (China’s People’s Liberation Army) to become a really 21st century fighting power and a global military power. But at the same time, we don’t see the depth that exists between, for example, the U.S. and America’s allies,” Gabuev said.

India has also purchased Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, an attempt to counter China’s military might that also risks angering Delhi’s ally, the United States, and an indication of the complexity of strategic relations in a changing world order. 

 

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Officials: Astroworld Victims Died From Compression Asphyxia

The 10 people killed at the Astroworld music festival in Houston all died from compression asphyxia during a massive crowd surge in which attendees were packed so tightly that many could not breathe or move their arms, officials announced Thursday.

According to a medical expert, what likely happened was the pressure from the large crowd at the event was so great that it quickly squeezed all the air from the lungs of the 10 victims, causing them to pass out within a minute or so and die because critical organs, such as the heart and brain, were depleted of oxygen.

Dr. George W. Williams, a critical care anesthesiologist with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said the hundreds and possibly thousands of pounds of pressure the victims likely felt on their chests was “like being crushed by a car.”

“Seconds really do count to allow for that person to recover and to be rescued from that terrible event … The organs like the brain and the heart start getting injury and after three to four minutes that injury becomes so severe to where you can’t bring that person back,” said Williams, who also works at Harris Health LBJ, one of the health science center’s teaching hospitals.

Medical examiners with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston had to wait several weeks following the Nov. 5 concert by rap superstar Travis Scott for additional test results before making final determinations on cause and manner of the deaths. The manner of the deaths was ruled as an accident.

The 10 people who died were among 50,000 who attended the festival and were in the audience when Scott’s concert turned deadly. 

 

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Медведчук прибув на засідання Апеляційного суду Києва

Минулого тижня, 6 грудня, розгляд апеляції відклали через неявку Медведчука до суду

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ДПСУ не пустила до України російського музиканта, який незаконно їздив до Криму

За даними прикордонників, громадянин Росії прокоментував заборону так: «ну все, залишились без хорошої музики»

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МВС: співробітника ФСБ Росії судитимуть за захоплення управління прикордонної служби та прикордонного загону в Криму

Співробітнику ФСБ інкримінується пособництво у посяганні на територіальну цілісність і недоторканність України, підбурювання до вчинення державної зради та пособництво у веденні агресивної війни

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UK PM Johnson Suffers By-Election Disaster

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday suffered a crushing by-election defeat in a constituency never previously lost by his Conservative Party, a result which raises serious questions about his leadership.

His party won the seat in North Shropshire, central England, by a massive majority in 2019, but that was wiped out by the Liberal Democrats in Thursday’s vote in a result that will intensify the mutinous mood among Conservative MPs.

Johnson, 57, was already reeling after roughly 100 of his MPs rebelled in parliament Tuesday against the government’s introduction of vaccine passes for large events.

The UK leader’s authority has also been clobbered repeatedly in recent weeks by claims of corruption and reports that he and his staff broke coronavirus restrictions last Christmas.

Weeks of bad headlines turned what would normally be a routine victory in the safe rural seat — won by 23,000 votes just two years ago — into a shattering defeat of almost 6,000 votes, while surging virus cases have added to a sense of crisis.

The government reported nearly 89,000 new infections Thursday, the second consecutive record daily tally.

Winning candidate Helen Morgan said that voters had sent a message “loudly and clearly” to Johnson that “the party’s over.”

“Your government, run on lies and bluster will be held accountable. It can and will be defeated,” she vowed.

‘Slap in the face’

Defeat will likely see more MPs filing letters of no-confidence in their leader, which could trigger an internal party vote to remove him.

The same process saw his predecessor Theresa May ousted in mid-2019 after MPs including Johnson voted against her Brexit deal in parliament.

The Liberal Democrats appeared to have been helped by supporters of the main national opposition Labour party lending them their votes.

“I’ll be voting for the Liberal Democrats because I’m so offended by the performance of Johnson,” Martin Hill, 68, who normally votes Labour, told AFP earlier this week.

“It’ll be a tactical vote — I want to give Johnson a slap in the face.”

However, others in the small town of Whitchurch were prepared to overlook the former London mayor’s transgressions.

“I don’t think it’s enough for us to say: ‘Right, we want a new leader now’, because I think Boris has done an excellent job,” said 67-year-old Sue Parkinson, who has voted Conservative for the last two decades.

Gloomy outlook

The atmosphere before the vote was a far cry from May, when the Conservatives swept to an unprecedented by-election victory in the northeast England seat of Hartlepool on the back of a successful vaccine rollout.

But the virus is once more dominating British life and the arrival of the Omicron variant has again deepened the gloom before Christmas, with the prime minister’s authority seen as weakened.

Britain is also suffering spiraling inflation as a result of big borrowing during lockdowns, high energy prices and bottlenecked supply chains. Tax rises also loom from next April.

Johnson — who won voters’ overwhelming backing in 2019 on his promise to “Get Brexit Done” — has been dogged by controversies since early last month.

It began with his unsuccessful attempt to change parliament’s disciplinary rules to spare North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson a suspension after he was found to have breached lobbying rules.

Paterson, who had held the seat since 1997, then quit, forcing Thursday’s by-election.

That crisis, though, was soon eclipsed by reports that Johnson and his staff broke COVID rules last year by holding several parties around Christmas — just as the public were told to cancel their festive plans. 

 

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Judge Rejects Purdue Pharma’s Sweeping Opioid Settlement 

A federal judge rejected OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement of thousands of lawsuits over the opioid epidemic Thursday because of a provision that would protect members of the Sackler family from facing litigation of their own. 

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in New York found that federal bankruptcy law does not give the bankruptcy judge who had accepted the plan the authority to grant that kind of release for people who are not declaring bankruptcy themselves. 

In a statement Thursday night, the company said that it would appeal the ruling and at the same time try to forge another plan that its creditors will agree to. 

Purdue said the ruling will not hurt the company’s operations, but it will make it harder for company and Sackler money to be used to fight the opioid crisis as the legal fight continues. 

“It will delay, and perhaps end, the ability of creditors, communities, and individuals to receive billions in value to abate the opioid crisis,” said Steve Miller, chairman of the Purdue board of directors. “These funds are needed now more than ever as overdose rates hit record-highs, and we are confident that we can successfully appeal this decision and deliver desperately needed funds to the communities and individuals suffering in the midst of this crisis.” 

Representatives of the two branches of the family who own the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who was among a handful of state officials seeking to have the deal undone, called the ruling “a seismic victory for justice and accountability.” Tong said the ruling will “reopen the deeply flawed Purdue bankruptcy and force the Sackler family to confront the pain and devastation they have caused.” 

Purdue sought bankruptcy protection in 2019 as it faced thousands of lawsuits claiming the company pushed doctors to prescribe OxyContin, helping spark an opioid crisis that has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades. 

Through the bankruptcy court, it worked out a deal with its creditors. Members of the Sackler family would give up ownership of the company, which would transform into a different kind of entity that would still sell opioids — but with profits being used to fight the crisis. It would also develop new anti-addiction and anti-overdose drugs and provide them at little or no cost. 

Sackler family members also would contribute $4.5 billion in cash and charitable assets as part of an overall deal that could be worth $10 billion, including the value of the new drugs, if they’re brought to market. 

Government entities and businesses agreed to use any money they receive fighting the opioid epidemic. The deal also calls for millions of company documents, including communications with lawyers, to be made public. 

In return, members of the wealthy family would get protection from lawsuits over their role in the opioid crisis — both the 860 already filed and any others in the future. 

Most state and local governments, Native American tribes, individual opioid victims and others who voted said the plan worked out in the bankruptcy court should be accepted. 

But the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee’s office, eight state attorneys general and some other entities have been fighting the deal. They argue that it does not properly hold members of the Sackler family accountable and that it usurps states’ ability to try to do so. 

A bankruptcy court judge approved the plan over the objections in September. But the opponents appealed to McMahon’s court. 

The main issue on the appeal was the lawfulness of the measures that would extend legal protections to family members. 

Such “third-party releases” are not used in most bankruptcy cases, but they are common in cases such as Purdue’s, in which the companies involved are burdened with lawsuits and have relatively little value — but their wealthy owners could contribute. 

The Purdue deal would not protect family members from any criminal charges. But so far none have been filed, and there are no signs that any are forthcoming, though some activists are calling for charges. 

In a hearing, McMahon focused on how Sackler family members transferred $10.4 billion from the privately held Stamford, Connecticut-based company over the decade before the bankruptcy. McMahon wanted to know whether the money was moved in part to ensure a role for the Sacklers in bankruptcy negotiations. 

But in her ruling Thursday, McMahon did not dig deeply into those transfers or the idea of holding Sackler family members accountable for the opioid crisis. Instead, she focused on whether the bankruptcy law even allows for the kind of deal the company and its creditors struck if there are objections to it. 

“The great unsettled question in this case is whether the Bankruptcy Court – or any court – is statutorily authorized to grant such releases. This issue has split the federal Circuits for decades,” she wrote. 

She also noted that other courts will weigh in on the case. The next step is likely before the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. 

“This opinion will not be the last word on the subject, nor should it be,” she wrote. “This issue has hovered over bankruptcy law for thirty-five years.” 

 

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Soaring Infections Rattle Europe, Fuel Dread About Holidays

Soaring infections in Britain driven in part by the omicron variant of the coronavirus rattled Europe on Thursday, prompting new restrictions and fueling a familiar dread on both sides of the Atlantic about entering a new phase of the pandemic just in time for the holidays. 

Much remains unknown about omicron, but officials increasingly warn that it appears more transmissible than the delta variant, which has already put pressure on hospitals worldwide. With so many questions unanswered, uncertainty reigned over how quickly and how severely to crack down on Christmas travel and year-end parties. 

After the United Kingdom recorded its highest number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, France announced Thursday that it would tighten entry rules for those coming from Britain. Hours later, the country set another record, with a further 88,376 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, almost 10,000 more than the day before. 

In England, the chief medical officer urged people to limit who they see in the festive period. Pubs and restaurants said many people were heeding that advice by canceling Christmas parties, though there has been much debate about what’s OK to do. In the United States, the White House insisted there was no need for a lockdown, despite signs that omicron was gaining ground there. 

Globally, more than 75 countries have reported confirmed cases of the new variant. In Britain, where omicron cases are doubling every two to three days, omicron was expected to soon replace delta as the dominant strain in the country. The government has accelerated its booster program in response. Authorities in the 27-nation European Union say omicron will be the dominant variant in the bloc by mid-January. 

Omicron traits 

Early data suggest that omicron may be milder but better at evading vaccines, making booster shots more crucial. Experts have urged caution about drawing conclusions too early because hospitalizations lag infections and many variables can contribute to how sick people get. 

Even if omicron proves milder on the whole than delta, it may disarm some of the lifesaving tools available and put immunocompromised and elderly people at particular risk. And if it’s more transmissible, more infections overall raise the risk that more cases will be serious. 

While experts gather the data, some governments rushed to act, while others sought to calm fears that the new variant would land countries back on square one. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted Thursday that the situation in the U.K. is different from last year because of the widespread use of vaccines and the ability to test. 

If people want to attend an event, “the sensible thing to do is to get a test and to make sure that you’re being cautious,” he said. 

“But we’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff. We’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted,” he said. 

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, struck a more cautious note, advising people earlier in the week to limit their social contacts. 

On Thursday, he told a parliamentary committee hearing that the government might have to review measures if vaccines prove less effective than expected against omicron. 

He said that “would be a material change to how ministers viewed the risks going forward.” 

Among those taking the more cautious route was Queen Elizabeth II, who opted to cancel her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch. 

U.S. response 

In the United States, President Joe Biden’s administration said tighter restrictions are not planned. Biden said the omicron variant is not spreading as fast as in Europe because of steps his administration has taken. 

He warned, however, that unvaccinated Americans faced “a winter of severe illness and death.” 

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that the U.S. was “in a very different and stronger place than we were a year ago.” 

Still, feelings of unease persisted among some Americans. 

Michael Stohl, 32, was relieved when he got the Pfizer vaccine last spring, but the spread of omicron has turned his optimism to dread. 

“Even though I’m fully vaccinated right now, that doesn’t seem to give me any sort of guarantee anymore,” he said. “It just puts this anxiety over you because they tell you the boosters will work, but that’s what they said about the original vaccines. Am I going to have to keep getting vaccinated every couple months?” 

He said he booked an appointment to receive his booster shot Thursday morning. 

Stohl, who works at the concierge desk at an apartment building in downtown Washington, said his family all lives in the city so he isn’t traveling for Christmas. 

He worries about friends and coworkers who will travel, however. 

“I just remember how bad everything was last year, and it’s looking like it might be that bad again,” he said. 

‘European solution’

People in the Netherlands, meanwhile, have been in a partial lockdown since November to curb a delta-driven surge. While infection numbers are now declining, the government this week ordered elementary schools to close for Christmas a week early amid fears of a new rise. Authorities also sped up a booster campaign as caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte cited Britain as an example of how swiftly the variant can spread. 

EU leaders gathering in Brussels for a summit Thursday sought to balance tackling the surge of infections while keeping borders open with common policies throughout the bloc. 

“Let’s try to maintain the European solution,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “If every country goes it alone again, we’ll be even further from home.” 

But ahead of the meeting, European nations were already acting to rein in the spread. 

Greece and Italy tightened entry requirements for travelers earlier this week, and Portugal decided to keep stricter border controls in place beyond its planned January 9 end. 

France said Thursday that it will slap restrictions on travelers arriving from the U.K. — which is no longer part of the EU — putting limits on reasons for traveling and requiring 48 hours of isolation upon arrival. The new measures will take effect early Saturday. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the measures were being imposed “in the face of the extremely rapid spread of the omicron variant in the U.K.” 

The abrupt move comes after weeks of political tensions between France and Britain over fishing rights and how to deal with migration across the English Channel. The French government is desperately trying to avoid a new lockdown that would hurt the economy and cloud President Emmanuel Macron’s expected reelection campaign. 

Waiting outside a Paris train station, Constantin Dobrynin said that he sometimes felt governments overreacted and imposed unnecessary measures. As for omicron, it wasn’t yet clear how serious it would be. 

“So we should be balanced, and we shouldn’t be panicked,” he said. 

Britain said it was not planning reciprocal measures. 

Fearing a raft of canceled parties and a general drop in business at the height of the crucial and lucrative Christmas season, British restaurants and pubs demanded government help Thursday. They said concerns about the new variant have already wiped out 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) in sales over the past 10 days. 

Across London, restaurants that would normally see bustling crowds clinking glasses and tucking into festive meals were reporting droves of cancellations and empty rooms. 

“It’s a complete nightmare. … This week should be the busiest week of the year for hospitality,” said Sally Abé, a chef at the Conrad Hotel in central London. “It’s everywhere, everybody’s canceling, but there’s no support from the government.” 

 

Posted by Worldkrap on

3 Service Members Receive Nation’s Highest Military Award at White House Ceremony

Three American service members were honored with the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military award — Thursday at the White House in a ceremony presided over by President Joe Biden. 

Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee, a special forces soldier and the only living honoree among the three, was cited for his actions during an engagement in Afghanistan in 2013.

“Throughout the entire engagement, Plumlee repeatedly placed himself in extreme danger to protect his team and the base, and to defeat the enemy,” the Army wrote in its citation for Plumlee. 

“It’s humbling to be nominated for this award and to be in this company,” Plumlee told reporters Wednesday during a news briefing. “The medal I’ll receive tomorrow will be presented to me, but it’s by no means mine.” 

Sergeant 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, the first African American recipient of the award since the September 11, 2001, attacks, pulled several of his fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq in 2005 despite second- and third-degree burns over 72% of his body. 

“Without regard for his personal safety,” his posthumous Silver Star award citation reads, “Cashe pulled the driver from the vehicle after having already suffered minor injuries, and then rushed back inside three times to extract six trapped soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter as his own fuel-soaked uniform caught fire.” 

He was 35. 

Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger, used his body to shield his fellow soldiers when they came under attack in Afghanistan in 2018. He then positioned himself to shield fellow soldiers and the cockpit of a helicopter that was evacuating a wounded soldier.

As the helicopter took off, Celiz ran for cover but was wounded. Instead of motioning for the helicopter to retrieve him, he waved it off, preventing further injuries. 

“I saw three rounds go by his back foot as he was running for cover, and he skipped like he had been hit,” said 2nd Lieutenant David White, who served under Celiz. “He looked up at the helicopter as he collapsed to his hands and knees, and I saw him raise his hand as he was looking up and wave them off, like, ‘Don’t come back for me.'” 

He was 32. 

“Today, we honor three outstanding soldiers whose actions embody the highest ideals of selfless service,” Biden said during the ceremony. “We also remember the high prices that military members and their families are willing to pay on behalf of our nation.” 

Celiz and Plumlee are the 19th and 20th service members awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan. Cashe is the seventh from the Iraq War to receive the honor. 

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.