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Omicron Variant Was Circulating In Netherlands Before S/Africa Reported It, Says Dutch Authorities



Dutch health authorities said on Tuesday that the Omicron variant was present in the Netherlands earlier than previously thought, and before South Africa had first reported the new strain of Covid-19.

The variant was found in two test samples from November 19 and 23, with one having no travel history, suggesting that the variant was already circulating in the Netherlands, the RIVM public health institute said.

The first Omicron cases in the Netherlands were previously believed to have been the cluster of 14 among passengers on two flights from South Africa that arrived in Amsterdam on Friday.

The Netherlands now joins other European countries including Belgium and Germany that have reported cases of the new strain before it was officially notified by South Africa to the World Health Organization on November 24.

“We found two additional cases of Omicron variant which have been sampled on the 19th and 23rd of November,” RIVM infectious diseases chief Aura Timen told AFP.

“So that points at the presence already of this variant in the Netherlands.”
‘No travel history’

Dutch authorities had informed the two new cases and carried out contact tracing, the RIVM said.

“One of those two people had no travel history, the other had recently been to the south of Africa,” an RIVM spokesman told AFP.

The airline passengers with Omicron, who were among 61 travellers on the two KLM flights from South Africa that tested positive for Covid, are now in quarantine.

With 16 confirmed cases the Netherlands has one of the highest numbers of the new strain in Europe.

But the Dutch situation was likely to be repeated in other countries when they retest samples for Omicron cases, the public health institute’s Timen said.

“I don’t think that we are in an exceptional situation or exceptional risk at this point,” Timen said.

“The moment a new variant emerges and is announced, probably the variant is already spread all over the world.”

Belgium, the first European country to report the presence of the new variant, has said that a case tested positive on November 22, and had developed symptoms 11 days after travelling to Egypt via Turkey.

Germany has meanwhile said that a person who tested positive for the variant had arrived at Frankfurt international airport on November 21.

The Omicron cases come as the Netherlands is under a virtual night-time lockdown imposed by the government after Covid cases surged to record levels.

But last week the number of new cases had finally “stabilised”, rising by just one percent to 155,152, compared to a leap of 39 percent the week before, the RIVM said.

Deaths last week rose to 367, from 265 the week before.

New hospital admissions also stabilised at 1,996 last week but the number of people admitted to intensive care continued to rise, up 22 percent to 367.

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Military Announces Takeover On Live TV In Burkina Faso, Suspends Constitution



Soldiers in Burkina Faso on Monday announced on state television that they have seized power in the West African country following a mutiny over the civilian president’s failure to contain an Islamist insurgency.

A junior officer announced the suspension of the constitution, the dissolution of the government and parliament, and the closure of the country’s borders from midnight Monday, reading from a statement signed by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba.

He said the new Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR) would re-establish “constitutional order” within a “reasonable time”, adding that a nationwide nightly curfew would be enforced.

Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the military coup in Ouagadougou, welcoming soldiers, honking car horns, and waving the national flag.

Earlier Monday, African and Western powers denounced what they called an “attempted coup” and the EU demanded the “immediate” release of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

The United States also called for Kabore’s release and urged “members of the security forces to respect Burkina Faso’s constitution and civilian leadership.”

UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement he “strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms”, calling events a “coup”.

Following contradictory reports over Kabore’s whereabouts EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement: “We now know that President Kabore is under the control of the military.”

He called the situation “extremely worrying”.

A government source had said Kabore was “exfiltrated” from his home late Sunday by his presidential guard “before the arrival of armed elements who fired on the vehicles of his convoy”.

An AFP correspondent early Monday saw three bullet-ridden vehicles outside Kabore’s residence, with traces of blood visible on one.

On Sunday, soldiers rose up at several army bases across Burkina Faso, which has been fighting the Islamist insurgency since 2015.

They demanded the removal of the military top brass and more resources to fight insurgents but made no mention of seeking Kabore’s ouster.

The president, in power since 2015 and re-elected in 2020, has faced rising public anger about the failure to stop the bloodshed in the poor, landlocked country.

On Monday, the People’s Movement for Progress ruling party said Kabore was the victim of an “aborted assassination attempt”.

A government minister, who was not named, also survived an attempt on his life and the president’s home was ransacked, it added.

The party said the presidential palace had been “encircled” by “a group of armed and masked men” and the national radio and television “occupied”.

Around 10 hooded troops were deployed in front of the headquarters of the national broadcaster RTB on Monday, an AFP journalist said.

The government source said Kabore had been “exfiltrated” from his home late Sunday by his presidential guard “before the arrival of armed elements who fired on the vehicles of his convoy”.

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Omicron Wave Of Covid-19 To End After Mid-February, US Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Fauci Predicts



The omicron wave of Coronavirus cases will peak in the US by mid-February and end afterwards, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci has predicted.

The number of COVID-19 infections in the US has been sharply declining in the Northeast and upper Midwest, following an alarming rise in cases since the highly contagious omicron variant was first reported in the U.S. in December, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief White House medical adviser, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Things are looking good. We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now,” Fauci said.

Some states in the South and West still have rising numbers of cases, “but if the pattern follows the trend that we’re seeing in other places such as the Northeast, I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country,” he said.

“There may be a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations in those areas of the countries that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosters,” Fauci added.

The US has had more than 700,000 new COVID cases per day, with a daily death toll of about 2,000. More than 865,000 people have died of COVID since the outbreak began, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said once the omicron wave peaks, the level of infection should get below “what I call the area of control.”

He said the the virus hasn’t been eliminated but is no longer so widespread and disruptive, he said.

“We’d like it to get down to that level where it doesn’t disrupt us, in the sense of getting back to a degree of normality,” Fauci said. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

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Stay Away From Ukraine, France Advises Nationals Against Non-Essential Travel



…As UK Withdraws Diplomats From Ukraine

French nationals should avoid travelling to Ukraine unless they have an essential reason, the foreign ministry said Monday.

Due to the Russian military build-up on the border with its neighbour, “it is recommended to exercise heightened vigilance”, the ministry said in a statement.

“It is strongly recommended to avoid border areas in the north and the east of the country,” the statement said.

“As far as possible it is recommended to postpone any travel to Ukraine that is not essential or urgent,” the ministry said.

On Sunday, the US State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans not to travel to Russia “due to ongoing tension along the border with Ukraine”.

For its part, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the US move was “premature”, calling it “a display of excessive caution”.

The European Union said it would not follow Washington’s lead, top European diplomat Josep Borrell adding that there was no need to “dramatise” the situation while talks with Russia continue.

However Britain’s foreign ministry said Monday it was withdrawing some staff and their relatives from its embassy in Ukraine in response to the “growing threat from Russia”.

Australia’s foreign ministry has also advised citizens not to travel to Ukraine, directing dependents of Australian embassy staff in Kyiv to leave the country.

The NATO alliance said Monday it was sending jets and ships to bolster its eastern European defences, as the US and EU looked to coordinate a tough response to Russia if it invades Ukraine.

The Kremlin meanwhile accused the US and NATO of ramping up tensions.

The West accuses Moscow of threatening to invade Ukraine by massing over 100,000 troops on its border. Russia denies it is planning any incursion.

Meanwhile, the government of the United Kingdom has ordered the withdrawal of some of its diplomats and their families from Ukraine. 
This is a result of growing expectations that Russia could stage an attack. 
It was gathered that half of diplomatic staff and their families stationed at the UK’s outpost in Kyiv are expected to leave the country.

This was after the US ordered families of American diplomats out of the country for the same reason, and offered non-essential embassy staff flights home.

The EU said that it had no plans to withdraw its own diplomatic staff, with top diplomat Josep Borrell saying there is no need to ‘dramatise’ the situation.

According to Daily Mail, Russia has amassed 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and issued a list of security demands to the US and its NATO allies.

The alliance has described most of the list including a ban on Ukraine joining and the withdrawal of troops from ex-Soviet states as ‘non-starters’.

However, high-level talks are ongoing with the US due to provide written responses this week.

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