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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

A slew of nations moved to stop air travel from southern Africa on Friday in reaction to news of a new, potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn, amid a massive spike in cases in the 27-nation European Union.

“Early indications show this variant may be more transmissible than the delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers. “We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment.”

Within a few days of the discovery of the new variant, it has already impacted on a jittery society that is sensitive to bad COVID-19 news, with deaths around the globe standing at over five million.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads, and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time. Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travellers from South Africa.

The WHO’s technical working group is to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether to give it a name from the Greek alphabet. 

Israel, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, announced Friday that it has detected the country’s first case of the new variant in a traveller who returned from Malawi. The traveller and two other suspected cases have been placed in isolation. The country said all three are vaccinated but that it is currently looking into their exact vaccination status.

The World Health Organization cautioned not to jump to conclusions too fast.

Speaking before the EU announcement, Dr. Michael Ryan, the head of emergencies at the WHO, said that “it’s really important that there are no knee-jerk responses.”

“We’ve seen in the past, the minute there’s any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It’s really important that we remain open, and stay focused,” Ryan said.

It quickly fell on deaf ears.

Travel restrictions

The U.K. announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

In a statement posted online Friday, South Africa said that while it respects the right of other countries to protect their citizens, “the U.K.’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the U.K. seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps.”

Germany said its flight ban could be enacted as soon as Friday night. Spahn said airlines coming back from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens home, and travellers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not. The country has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed the mark of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday.

Italy’s health ministry also announced measures to ban entry into Italy of anyone who has been in seven southern African nations — South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini — in the past 14 days due to the new variant. The Netherlands is planning similar measures.

The Japanese government announced that from Friday, Japanese nationals travelling from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine at government-dedicated accommodation for 10 days and do a COVID test on Day 3, Day 6 and Day 10. Japan has not yet opened up to foreign nationals.

In Washington, top U.S. infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci said no decision had been made on a possible U.S. travel ban. There was no indication that the variant was in the United States, and it was unclear whether it was resistant to current vaccines, he told CNN.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 9:30 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

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What’s happening around the world

Medical personnel of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, load COVID-19 patients onto a plane during a transfer of patients out of Bavaria during the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic on Friday. (Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images)

As of early Friday morning, more than 260.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus database. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.1 million.

In Europe, the German air force will begin assisting the transfer of intensive care patients Friday as the government warned that the situation in the country is more serious than at any point in the pandemic. Citing the sharp rise in cases, Health Minister Jens Spahn said contacts between people need to be sharply reduced to curb the spread of the virus.

“The situation is dramatically serious, more serious than it’s been at any point in the pandemic,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Meanwhile, the European Union said on Friday that it will ease its restrictions on exporting COVID-19 vaccines.

The Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said that as of January it will no longer require vaccine producers to request special authorization to export outside the 27-nation bloc.

People wait in line outside a COVID-19 testing station on Friday in Berlin, Germany, where cases have been surging. (Omer Messinger/Getty Images)

Earlier this year when vaccines were still in short supply, the EU introduced a mechanism to keep some of the jabs it secured from AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish drug company, from being diverted elsewhere. The export control system, aimed at making sure large drug companies would respect their contracts, was used by the EU in March, when a shipment of more than a quarter of a million AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia was blocked from leaving.

When the dispute with AstraZeneca broke, the EU was lagging well behind the United States and other countries in COVID-19 vaccinations. According to Stella Kyriakides, the commissioner for health, the bloc has now vaccinated over 65 per cent of the total EU population of some 450 million inhabitants.

In Africa, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will convene a coronavirus council on Sunday, as the country said the U.K.’s ban on flights from six southern African countries over the variant seemed rushed.

In the Americas, millions of Americans got booster shots at a near-record pace after the Biden administration expanded eligibility last week, but health officials concerned about climbing infections ahead of the winter holiday season urged more to get the additional protection.

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In the Asia-Pacific region, drugmakers Pfizer Inc. and MSD, known as Merck & Co Inc. in the United States and Canada, have agreed to give licences to firms in Vietnam to produce COVID-19 treatment pills.

In the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned of a looming “state of emergency” due to the new variant detected in South Africa.

-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 9:30 a.m. ET

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Britain says it is supplying anti-tank weapons to Ukraine

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Britain said on Monday it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself from a potential invasion, during a stand-off with Russia which has massed troops near the Ukrainian border.

Western countries say they fear Russia is preparing a pretext for a new assault on Ukraine, which it invaded in 2014.

Moscow denies any plans for an attack, but has said it could take unspecified military action unless the West agrees to a list of demands, including banning Ukraine from ever joining NATO. Talks last week ended with no breakthrough. Kyiv has asked Western countries for arms to help it protect itself.

“We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armour defensive weapon systems,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament, saying the first systems were already delivered on Monday and a small number of British personnel would provide training for a short period of time.

He did not specify the number or type of weapons that were being sent, but said: “They are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia. They are to use in self-defence.”

“These are short-range …. but nevertheless it would make people pause and think what they were doing and if tanks were to roll into Ukraine, invade it, then they would be part of the defence mechanism.”

Ukraine’s defence minister welcomed Wallace’s announcement.

“Ukraine highly appreciates Britain’s decision to provide a new security package with light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems!” Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet.

Britain has previously warned Russia of severe consequences if it launched a new military assault on Ukraine, while offering financing to enhance Ukraine’s naval capabilities.

Wallace said he had invited Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to visit London in the next few weeks to discuss the crisis, though he did not know whether the Russians would accept.

“The current gap is wide but not unbridgeable,” Wallace said, voicing the hope that diplomacy would prevail and adding, “It is President (Vladimir) Putin’s choice.”

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Alistair Smout; additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams; Editing by Kate Holton, Peter Graff and Howard Goller)

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Canada ends contract with Malaysia’s Supermax over labour allegations

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Canada has terminated its sourcing contract with Malaysian glove maker Supermax Corp following allegations about forced labour, the country’s public services and procurement department said on Tuesday.

“Based on the seriousness of the allegations and expected timelines for the final audit results, the Government of Canada has decided, and Supermax Healthcare Canada has agreed, to terminate by mutual consent the two existing contracts for the supply of nitrile gloves,” the department told Reuters in an emailed statement.

Supermax did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Ed Davies)

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Russia fines Google for not deleting banned content

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A Moscow court on Monday said it had ordered Alphabet’s Google to pay 4 million roubles ($52,526) for not removing access to content banned in Russia, the latest in a string of fines for the U.S. tech giant.

Russia upped the ante late last year in its efforts to increase pressure on Big Tech, handing massive, revenue-based fines to Google and Meta Platforms for repeatedly failing to remove content Moscow deems illegal.

Google declined to comment.

The TASS news agency reported that Google had been fined for providing access to links of banned websites.

($1 = 76.1530 roubles)

 

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Editing by Louise Heavens)

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