The World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told Reuters on Friday that while the new coronavirus variant omicron appeared to be very transmissible, the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic.
WHO has urged countries to boost health-care capacity and vaccinate their people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant, saying travel curbs could buy time, but were not the only answer.
“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” Swaminathan said during an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
While the emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, she said the world was much better prepared than it was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, given the development of vaccines.
Much remains unknown about omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries. Parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the delta variant before omicron emerged.
“We need to wait, let’s hope it’s milder … but it’s too early to conclude about the variant as a whole,” Swaminathan said of the new variant.
“Delta accounts for 99 per cent of infections around the world. This variant would have to be more transmissible to out-compete and become dominant worldwide. It is possible, but it’s not possible to predict.”
WHO’s top scientist said the omicron variant seemed to be causing three times more infections than experienced previously in South Africa, meaning “it does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection.”
Vaccines did appear to be having some effect.
“The fact that they’re not getting sick … that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection,” Swaminathan said.
She said the health organization is “preparing for all scenarios,” which could include an additional booster dose, particularly among some age groups or vulnerable sections of the population, or a modified vaccine.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergency program, said later Friday that information about the variant will soon be flowing in as scientists learn more. He urged people to “stay centred” and not “go to the extremes of any analysis.”
“There was a time when scientists would look at all this data and nobody in the public would know, and eventually, a month later … there would be a result,” he said during a question and answer session about omicron. “That’s not how the world works anymore — everything is happening in real time.”
Ryan said that shift offers some real benefits around transparency and community empowerment, but it can also be “unsettling” to people because firm answers aren’t available right away.
“We’ve got to get used to living in that world where getting the real evidence and answers is slightly behind getting all the data and all this kind of unlinked information,” he said.
“We all live with that uncertainty.”
–From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:02 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of late Friday morning, more than 264.4 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 Ireland, the government on Friday announced strict new limits on the hospitality sector and home visits after officials warned the new omicron variant was likely to add to pressure on the health service.
In Africa, the health ministry in South Africa on Thursday reported 11,535 new cases of COVID-19 and 44 additional deaths, up from 8,561 new cases and 28 deaths a day earlier. The country, which raised the alarm about the new variant now named omicron, has seen a surge in cases.
In Europe, more regions of Russia have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those 60 and over as the country tries to control infections and keep the omicron variant at bay.
Authorities in the northern region of Komi said Friday people in that age group are required to get fully vaccinated by Feb. 1. The Omsk region in Siberia introduced a more stringent timeline Thursday that obligates those 60 and older to get their first dose by Dec. 24 and their second by Jan. 15.
Russia has struggled to get cases down amid low vaccination rates and poor compliance with public health measures. Only about 40 per cent of Russia’s population have been fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England rose to around one in 60 people in the week ending Nov. 27, Britain’s Office for National Statistics said Friday, noting the increase was attributed to the dominant delta variant rather than newly identified omicron. The prevalence was up from 1 in 65 reported the previous week, the ONS said.
In the Americas, the Biden administration announced more measures meant to curb the spread of the new variant. Starting Monday, international air travellers arriving in the United States must provide a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel.
“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” said President Joe Biden. Around 60 per cent of the U.S. population have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.
In the Middle East, OPEC and its allies agreed to stick to their existing policy of monthly oil output increases despite fears that a U.S. release from crude reserves and the new omicron coronavirus variant would lead to a fresh oil price rout.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India reported its first omicron cases but the government said it had no immediate plan to authorize booster vaccine shots despite demands from legislators.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:02 p.m. ET
Sask. RCMP issue Canada-wide warrant for anti-vaccine dad charged with abducting daughter, 7 – CBC.ca
Saskatchewan RCMP have charged and issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for a Carievale, Sask., man accused of abducting his daughter to prevent her getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Michael Gordon Jackson, 52, is charged with one count of abduction in contravention of a custody or parenting order, RCMP said in a news release Friday evening.
It comes after CBC News reported earlier this month that the father fled with his seven-year-old daughter, Sarah, in mid-November to keep her from getting immunized against the coronavirus. Jackson’s ex-wife, Mariecar Jackson, had wanted to get their daughter vaccinated, but Jackson did not.
The girl had been visiting her father when she was allegedly abducted.
Since an enforceable court order was issued earlier this month, investigators say they have followed up on several tips and reported sightings of the father and daughter — including by reviewing surveillance footage at several businesses. However, no tips have led to locating them.
At this point, RCMP say, the criteria for an Amber Alert has not been met, which is why Mounties are continuing to ask the public for help in tracking the pair down.
“Sarah: we want you to know that you are not in any trouble,” Chief Supt. Tyler Bates, the officer in charge of the Saskatchewan RCMP south district, said in a message to the girl contained in the news release.
“Your mom misses you very much, and we have police officers doing what they can so you can see her again soon.”
Sarah is described as four feet two inches tall, 76 pounds, with waist-length brown hair that’s all one length. She has brown/hazel-coloured eyes and last wore teal-coloured eyeglasses.
Michael Jackson is described as weighing about 250 pounds with blue eyes and dark brown hair. He also typically wears glasses, RCMP said.
While Jackson resides in the Carievale area — located in Saskatchewan’s southeast corner — Mounties said he may have connections to the communities of Dilke, Oxbow, Alameda and Regina, along with Lamont, Alta. RCMP said he may also be in Manitoba.
“Locating Michael Gordon Jackson and Sarah is a top priority for Saskatchewan RCMP officers,” Bates said. “Our investigators are diligently following up on all tips and reported sightings. We are committed to locating Michael Gordon Jackson and reuniting Sarah with her mom.”
WATCH | Sask. woman says she’ll never stop looking for her child:
RCMP noted that investigators believe Michael Jackson may be getting help in evading police and reminded people that this activity may result in criminal charges.
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Michael or Sarah Jackson is asked to call the Saskatchewan RCMP at 306-310-7267 or 306-780-5563. Tips can also be anonymously submitted to Crime Stoppers at at 1‐800‐222‐8477 or www.saskcrimestoppers.com.
China’s Investment into Foreign Media
Over the last few decades, China’s power and influence have grown remarkably quickly. The largest country in Asia is now one of the world’s biggest superpowers, and its influence has extended across the continent and into new territories as the Chinese government looks to cement its power for the future. According to a recent report released by Reporters Without Borders, China has started investing in foreign media to deter criticism and spread propaganda.
According to the research, “China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order”, Beijing is spreading its worldview through several techniques, including increased international broadcasting, huge advertising campaigns, and infiltration of foreign media outlets.
China has recently opened laws across the country to give its people more freedom. However, there are still many restrictions in place, including against online gambling. Despite this, Chinese citizens can get online and place sports bets and wagers at online casinos, using trusted online gambling portals such as Asiabet. Interested players can access a wide range of leading casinos and sportsbooks through the site as well as information regarding the legality of the recommended operators, safety, and strategy before joining up, making it easier for players to understand what they’re getting into.
Why Is Chine Looking to Control Foreign Media?
The Chinese government is spending up to $1.3 billion a year to boost Chinese media’s global reach. Chinese state-run television and radio shows have been able to dramatically expand their foreign reach in recent years because of this financing. China Radio International is now transmitted in 65 languages, while China Global Television Network is distributed across 140 countries.
Considering the current global geopolitical climate, this looks to be a smart move, as it allows China to present itself how it wants to be seen to a global audience. In recent years, China has gained media attention across the West for its influence on North Korea, its expansion into the South China Sea, and its treatment of the minority Uighurs within its own country.
How Is China Influencing Foreign Media?
The Chinese government has recently increased spending on advertisements in Western newspapers and publishing sites to promote Chinese viewpoints. Advertising dollars have enticed media outlets, which has had a particularly large impact considering news media is currently struggling with profitability. China Daily, a mouthpiece for the Chinese regime, has paid American newspapers 19 million dollars in advertising and printing in the last four years alone, according to US Justice Department records.
China is also aiming to influence and control foreign media outlets by purchasing interests in them, according to the research. The report found that, in many cases, Chinese ownership typically leads to self-censorship, and journalists have lost their jobs in the past for publishing negative articles about the country.
For example, Reporters Without Borders claim that a journalist for South Africa’s Independent Online, which has a 20% investment in Chinese investors, had his column stopped in September 2018. This came just hours after a column about China’s mistreatment of ethnic minorities was published.
Reporters Without Borders has also claimed that, in addition to buying shares in media firms, Beijing has impacted foreign media by inviting journalists from developing nations to China for training. According to the report, China invited several Zambian journalists to a specially designed event named the 2018 Zambia Media Think Tank Seminar.
What Does This Mean for the Future of Western Media?
China has long had a lack of press freedom, with the country ranked 177 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index in 2021. It looks like the country is using domestic tactics used to control media narratives and bring them to the wider world, allowing it to control what people say about the country and regime in other countries too. By silencing and pressing foreign journalists and news stories, the Chinese government is damaging the trust that people place in the media.
Some people feel that this report is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. It could be that the influence from the Chinese government is even greater than previously expected. While a lot of foreign governments will often have an impact on media in other countries to control a narrative, this is on a scale never seen before.
Despite this, there are many journalists around the world who refuse to be influenced and still work hard to preserve the integrity of journalism. Reporters Without Borders will continue to document and report on the extent of China’s influence on foreign media.
Emmy-winning actor Louie Anderson dead at age 68
The star of the comedy series “Baskets” died in Las Vegas, where he was admitted into a hospital earlier this week for treatment of diffuse large B cell lymphoma, publicist Glenn Schwartz told the entertainment publication.
Anderson was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy Series, winning one in 2016 for his role as Christine Baskets on the FX series.
He also won two Daytime Emmys for outstanding performer in an animated program for “Life with Louie,” a program that aired on Fox in 1997 and 1998.
The Saint Paul, Minnesota, native was a counselor to troubled children before he got his start in comedy when he won first place in the Midwest Comedy Competition in 1981, according to Deadline.
Anderson was in Eddie Murphy’s 1988 hit movie “Coming to America.” He also hosted “Family Feud” from 1999 to 2002 and starred in several situation comedies over the last two decades.
Anderson wrote several books, including “Goodbye Jumbo … Hello Cruel World,” a self-help book for people struggling with self-esteem issues.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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