The Dutch government announced a three-week partial lockdown on Friday amid soaring COVID-19 cases that are putting the country’s health-care sector under renewed strain.
It comes as Europe has become the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic again, prompting some governments to consider re-imposing unpopular restrictions in the run-up to Christmas and stirring debate over whether vaccines alone are enough to tame COVID-19.
Under the lockdown, which comes into effect on Saturday night, bars, restaurants and supermarkets will have to close at 8 p.m. local time, professional sports matches will be played in empty stadiums and people are being urged to work from home as much as possible. Stores selling non-essential items will have to close at 6 p.m, caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Marc Rutte said Friday.
The move means the Dutch national team playing a World Cup qualifier against Norway on Tuesday night behind closed doors.
It comes a day after the country’s public health institute recorded 16,364 new positive tests in 24 hours — the highest number of any time during the pandemic.
The Netherlands, where nearly 85 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, largely ended lockdown restrictions at the end of September.
Half of all infections globally are now in Europe
Europe accounts for more than half of the average seven-day infections globally and about half of the latest deaths, according to a Reuters tally, the highest levels since April last year when the virus first swept into Italy.
Germany and France are also experiencing a surge in infections, showing the challenge even for governments with high acceptance rates and dashing hopes vaccines would mean a return to close to normal.
World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that the surge in Europe is “another reminder” that vaccines alone do not replace the need for other health measures.
To be sure, hospitalizations and deaths are much lower than a year ago. As well, big variations by country in use of vaccines and boosters as well as measures like physical distancing make it hard to draw conclusions for the whole region.
Germany’s disease control centre is calling for people to cancel or avoid large events and to reduce their contacts as the country’s coronavirus infection rate hits the latest in a string of new highs. While the infection rate isn’t yet as high as in some other European countries, its relentless rise in Germany has set off alarm bells.
“We must now do everything necessary to break this momentum,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters. “Otherwise it will be a bitter December for the whole country.”
Austria’s government is likely to decide on Sunday to impose a lockdown on people who are not vaccinated, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Friday.
– From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:56 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday morning, more than 252 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the global database maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than five million.
In Europe, Latvia’s parliament voted on Friday to ban lawmakers who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine from voting on legislature and participating in discussions. Latvia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union.
British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Friday that it will start to book a modest profit from its coronavirus vaccine as it moves away from the nonprofit model it has operated during the pandemic. Until now, AstraZeneca said it would provide the vaccine “at cost” — around $2 to $3 — for the duration of the pandemic following an agreement with the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine. Other COVID-19 vaccine producers, such as Pfizer and Moderna, have been booking hefty profits on their shots all along.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Thailand on Friday said it would delay the reopening of nightlife entertainment venues to Jan. 15 despite pleas from the industry to make it sooner. A spokesperson for the government’s COVID-19 administration cited concerns about ventilation and inefficient prevention measures in pubs, bars and karaoke joints.
The Japanese government’s preparations for the next virus surge include adding thousands more hospital beds to avoid a situation like last summer when many COVID-19 patients were forced to stay home, even while dependent on oxygen deliveries.
In the Americas, one United States governor defied federal guidance on COVID-19 booster shots Thursday by issuing an order allowing all state residents 18 and older to get them.
“Because disease spread is so significant across Colorado, all Coloradans who are 18 years of age and older are at high risk and qualify for a booster shot,” Gov. Jared Polis said in an order. The state is facing a surge in infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
In the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and senior aides holed up in a nuclear command bunker to simulate an outbreak of a vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant to which children are vulnerable, describing such an eventuality as “the next war.”
– From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 11:10 a.m. ET
Omicron: Should you travel and what insurance will you need? – CTV News
Experts are divided on whether travel is advisable in light of the Omicron variant spurring restrictions at the border and new travel bans leading into the holiday season.
On Tuesday, the government announced travel bans for 10 countries and added that fully vaccinated travellers arriving by air from international destinations other than the U.S. would be required to take a PCR test upon arrival, and quarantine while awaiting the results.
Some travellers are having second thoughts amid the confusion, and Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure Inc., told CTV News Channel that the confusion at airports over the new PCR test requirement is likely to grow.
“There’s nothing clearly stated as to how it’s going to work — are they getting it done there, are they lining up with thousands of other people, are they getting a take-home test, are they going to wait and isolate three days till test results — incredibly confusing right now, in all aspects,” he said.
“I’m seeing right now there’s many people that are making a decision to cancel their flights or cancel their trips.”
Firestone said that booking an international trip for January or February might not be the best idea.
“They maybe have to be on hold,” he said.
“I’m looking at summer 2022 as the best chance to start going to Europe and Asia and places such as that.”
So far, just how dangerous Omicron might be is unclear, making it another question in the calculus of whether travelling is advisable. Scientists are studying the variant in the hopes of pinpointing whether it causes more severe illness, but so far cases have shown largely mild symptoms, and no deaths have been connected to the variant.
However, preliminary data suggests that those who have previously had COVID-19 are at a higher risk of reinfection from Omicron than other variants.
Currently, there are 18 cases of Omicron in Canada.
Not everyone is jumping to cancellations, according to Richard Vanderlubbe, president of tripcentral.ca and a member of the board of directors for the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), but “new inquiries and new bookings have slowed down.”
“We were at about a 40 per cent of the 2019 level just prior to that,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “And it was rising. So I think people are pausing and they’re trying to figure out what this means.”
Many who had planned Christmas trips are likely going to go through with them and simply plan for the added requirements at the border, he said, adding that whether to travel or not is up to where a person is going and how important it is to them to make that trip.
“I think what’s happening with government testing right now at airports is long overdue,” he said. “And we need to be able to create an environment where people are safe, that we’re vaccinated, […] the testing is available, it’s not [difficult] in terms of costs, that’s convenient and we get the results quickly.”
Firestone believes that it’ll be simplest to go to the U.S. this holiday season, if a person is set on getting away despite the added restrictions.
“Going to the U.S. right now, again, if everything’s properly done, including now the new one-day rapid test, negative test, that has to be done before you get into the U.S., that could still be plausible,” he said, adding that published health measures such as masking still need to be followed.
“But I think that’s the best bet at this point, is a U.S. holiday, possibly a sun destination holiday, although you’re going to face the large crowds coming back in, getting the negative PCR test. So it’s just nothing simple anymore, and I’m hoping that we get a bit of a holiday season and then travel eventually [can] open up again.”
IF I DO TRAVEL, SHOULD I GET INSURANCE?
Travellers worried about insurance should be aware of a couple things, Vanderlubbe said.
One is that since the blanket advisory against non-essential travel was lifted by the government in October, medical insurance policies for travel are now, in general, covering COVID-19 related medical claims, he explained.
“There was a time when the advisory was out that the insurance plans did not generally cover it,” he said. “And you had to buy separate insurance.”
When it comes to cancellation insurance, after some struggles earlier in the pandemic to get airlines to issue refunds when flights were cancelled by the airline itself, airlines are now generally covering any sort of involuntary cancellation where the airline decides not to operate the flight.
“There’s not a lot of risk now for consumers in booking something and then the government comes and, let’s say in the future slaps on a restriction on a certain destination and they cancel all the flights — you won’t lose your money,” Vanderlubbe said.
That leaves voluntary cancellation, which is when a person decides themselves that they no longer wish to fly.
“I’m looking at the arrangements and I’m looking at these things going on and maybe I’m getting cold feet and I don’t necessarily want to travel,” he explained.
Considering the shifting landscape right now, a traveller who is concerned that they may want to back out later — due to fears of COVID-19, due to falling ill themselves before the flight, or due to other unforeseen complications — may want to consider a waiver or other type of insurance that could aid them if they want to cancel a flight voluntarily.
“If you change your mind, at least you don’t lose all your money, you can rebook it as a credit,” Vanderlubbe said.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca
In Asia, South Korea again broke its daily records for coronavirus infections and deaths and confirmed three more cases of the new omicron variant as officials scramble to tighten social distancing and border controls.
The 5,352 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on Saturday marked the third time this week the daily tally exceeded 5,000. The country’s death toll was at 3,809 after a record 70 virus patients died in the past 24 hours, while the 752 patients in serious or critical condition were also an all-time high.
As the delta-driven surge threatens to overwhelm hospital systems, there is also concern about the local spread of the omicron variant, which is seen as potentially more infectious than previous strains of the virus.
The country’s omicron caseload is now at nine after the KDCA confirmed three more cases. The new cases include the wife, mother-in-law and a friend of a man who caught omicron from a couple he drove home from the airport after they arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 24. The couple’s teenage child and two other women who also travelled to Nigeria have also been infected with omicron.
Officials say the number of omicron cases could rise as some of the patients had attended a church gathering involving hundreds of people on Nov. 28.
While the emergence of omicron has triggered global alarm and pushed governments around the world to tighten their borders, scientists say it remains unclear whether the new variant is more contagious, more likely to evade the protection provided by vaccines or more likely to cause serious illnesses than previous versions of the virus.
Starting next week, private social gatherings of seven or more people will be banned in the densely populated capital Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas, which have been hit hardest by delta and are now running out of intensive care units.
To fend off omicron, South Korea has required all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status. The country has banned short-term foreign travelers arriving from nine African nations, including South Africa and Nigeria.
What’s happening across Canada
- More than 1,000 public-sector workers placed on leave over N.S. vaccine mandate.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 265 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.
In Europe, thousands of people marched peacefully through the Dutch city of Utrecht on Saturday to protest the government’s coronavirus lockdown measures. Meanwhile, Princess Beatrix, the country’s 83-year-old former queen, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the royal house announced Saturday.
In the Americas, Rio de Janeiro cancelled its famed New Year’s Eve party, becoming the latest Brazilian city — after Sao Paulo and Salvador — to halt holiday celebrations due to omicron fears.
In Africa, South Africa is being hit by a fourth wave of infections driven by the new variant that has been detected in seven of the country’s nine provinces, its health minister said.
Thailand seizes $88 million worth of crystal meth bound for Taiwan
Thai authorities intercepted nearly 900 kg (2,000 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine hidden in a cargo shipment at Bangkok’s Port Custom Office and bound for Taiwan where it could be sold for up to $88 million, a customs official said on Saturday.
The drug was seized by customs officials late on Friday, hidden in powder form inside 161 white silicon slabs in packages destined for Taiwan.
“The 897 kg of crystal meth is worth about 500 to 600 million baht ($15 million to $18 million), but once they reach their destination they will be worth 3 billion baht in market price,” Thai Customs Director-General Patchara Anuntasil told a press conference on Saturday.
Patchara said that Thai and Taiwanese authorities were both investigating.
The methamphetamine market has continued to expand and diversify in East and Southeast Asia, unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.
In October, police in neighboring Laos seized a record https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/laos-police-seize-record-drugs-haul-golden-triangle-2021-10-28 haul of 55 million methamphetamine tablets and over 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine tablets in the Golden Triangle region where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet.
The Golden Triangle has a long history of illicit drug production and has recently served as a massive production centre for amphetamine-type stimulants, especially methamphetamine, used by Asian crime syndicates with distribution networks reaching as far as Japan and New Zealand.
($1 = 33.8400 baht)
(Reporting by Artorn Poonkasook and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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