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Ethiopia conducts two air strikes on Tigray within hours, war escalates

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The  Ethiopian government carried out a second air strike within hours on the Tigray region on Wednesday, significantly escalating a campaign to weaken rebellious Tigrayan forces in an almost one-year-old war.

The second strike was in Agbe in the Temben region some 80 km (50 miles) west of the regional capital Mekelle, targeting a military training centre and heavy artillery depot, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said.

That came after a morning air strike in Mekelle, the third this week. Tigrai Television said the attack targeted the centre of the city while the Addis Ababa government said it targeted buildings where Tigrayan forces were repairing armaments.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has “been adept at hiding munitions and heavy artillery in places of worship and using ordinary Tigrayans as a human shield”, Legesse said.

Two witnesses and a humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters that the morning strike appeared to have targeted Mesfin Industrial Engineering PLC, a factory complex which the government believes supports the TPLF.

TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, referring to government forces, said: “They are desperate on the war front. My interpretation is they are bombing us because they are losing on the ground and it’s their reprisal. The fact that they are bombing shows they don’t care about Tigrayan civilians.”

Speaking to Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location, Gebremichael said the strike did not hit the engineering complex, rather another private company compound, but he had no further details.

Nine civilians, including a five-year-old child, were being treated at Ayder Referral Hospital for injuries sustained in the strike, according to TPLF-run Tigrai Television.

The blast shattered the windows of Mekelle General Hospital, about one kilometre away from Mesfin Industrial, and damaged nearby homes, said a doctor at the hospital. It had received five wounded people, he said.

“Four of them were factory employees and the fifth one is a lady whose lives near the factory. Her house was destroyed by the air strike,” the doctor said.

Tigrai Television posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke. Reuters geolocated the images to Mekelle.

The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF, which controls the northern region, and the central government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa.

The TPLF dominated the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.

CONTROL OF THE SKIES

Mesfin Industrial Engineering is an equipment manufacturer and car and truck assembly plant that was part of EFFORT, a TPLF-owned conglomerate.

After war broke out last November, the government froze the company’s bank accounts, saying there was evidence that it was supporting the TPLF. The company could not be reached for comment. Most communications in Mekelle are down.

Mekelle was also hit by two air strikes on Monday https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/mekelle-capital-ethiopias-tigray-hit-by-air-strikes-regional-tv-2021-10-18. The TPLF accused the government of launching the attacks. A government official initially denied the accusation but state media later reported the air force had conducted a strike.

The attacks follow intensified fighting in two other northern regions where the military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF, which recaptured Mekelle and most of the rest of Tigray several months ago.

In July, the TPLF pushed into the two other regions, Amhara and Afar, and several hundred thousand more people fled their homes, according to the United Nations.

Last week, after the TPLF said the military had started an offensive in Amhara, the military said that the TPLF had “opened war on all fronts”, and that government forces were inflicting heavy casualties.

“The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which has recently made further gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group think-tank.

“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said.

 

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom with additional reporting by George Sargent in London and Nairobi newsroom; writing by Maggie Fick; editing by Nick Macfie, Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich)

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Canadians, other foreigners will need COVID-19 test a day before flights to U.S. – CBC.ca

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The United States is making it mandatory next week for Canadians and other foreign visitors who arrive by air to get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of their departure, regardless of their vaccination status, as part of a pandemic battle plan for the winter months.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced his administration’s plan on Thursday during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

The new travel rule on obtaining a negative COVID-19 test will take effect on Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET, sources briefed on the matter said.

Currently, international air travellers are required to get a test within 72 hours of leaving for the U.S. A senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity told CBC News that the new protocol will not apply to those crossing the Canada-U.S. land border.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to get people maximum protection from this pandemic,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing on Thursday in advance of Biden’s afternoon announcement.

Passengers arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport In New York City on Nov. 8. By early next week, Canadians and all other foreign visitors who travel to the U.S. by air will need to get a COVID-19 test no later than 24 hours before their departure. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

“Our view and belief, and the belief of our medical team, is that we have the tools to keep people safe. We’re executing on a robust plan that builds off of all the actions we’ve taken to date — we are not starting from scratch here.”

Fully vaccinated travellers entering the U.S. by land from Canada currently do not need to present a negative COVID-19 test, as long as they show proof of vaccination or attest to their vaccination status upon request by a border agent. That rule has been in place since the land border reopened to non-essential travel on Nov. 8.

In Canada, all those entering the country must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test result, taken within 72 hours of arrival by land or air.

However, since Nov. 30, the rule has been adjusted for Canadians who depart and re-enter Canada within 72 hours, meaning those taking trips of that duration or shorter no longer need proof of a negative COVID-19 test to return home.

WATCH | Travel Insurance, trip planning and the omicron variant: 

Travel Insurance, trip planning and the omicron variant

Travel insurance consultant Martin Firestone lays out what travellers should know about the latest travel restrictions. 4:48

Under the U.S. plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 over the winter months, the Transportation Security Administration is extending its mask mandates on transit through March 18. Passengers on domestic flights, trains and public transportation will be required to continue wearing face masks.

Other components of the 10-point U.S. strategy include:

  • A plan to expand access to booster shots, with a comprehensive outreach effort to convince nearly 100 million eligible Americans to get one.
  • New family vaccination clinics to provide a one-stop vaccination stop for entire households.
  • Accelerating the effort to safely vaccinate children under the age of five.
  • Expanding the availability of at-home test kits.
  • Rapid response teams to help with widespread omicron outbreaks.
  • Another 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses donated internationally within the next 100 days.

Biden’s speech outlining the plan comes a day after the U.S. confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveller who arrived in San Francisco from South Africa on Nov. 22.

The new variant is “cause for concern but not panic,” Biden said.

More omicron cases reported

U.S. health officials confirmed a second case of the variant on Thursday in Minnesota. It involved a vaccinated man who had attended an anime convention just before Thanksgiving in New York City that drew an estimated 50,000 people. That would suggest the variant has begun to spread within the U.S.

In addition to the convention attendee, health officials in New York said tests showed five other people in the city recently infected with COVID-19 had the variant.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the geographic spread of the positive tests suggested the variant was undergoing “community spread” in the city and wasn’t linked to any one event.

Another U.S. case of the variant was reported Thursday in a Colorado woman who had recently travelled to southern Africa.

COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have dropped by about half since the delta variant peak in August and September, but at about 86,000 new infections per day, the numbers are still worrisomely high — especially heading into the holidays, when people travel and gather with family.

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U.S. to not reimburse private health insurers for covering at-home COVID test costs

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The U.S. government will not reimburse private health insurance companies for covering the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests, a White House official said on Thursday.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act require coverage of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 without any cost-sharing requirements during the public health emergency,” the White House official said.

“The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury will clarify that coverage of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests is generally subject to those provisions”, the official added.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, writing by Kanishka Singh)

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Oil up on OPEC+ plan to meet ahead of schedule if Omicron dents demand

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Oil prices climbed on Friday, extending gains after OPEC+ said it would review supply additions ahead of its next scheduled meeting if the Omicron variant hits demand, but prices were still on course for a sixth week of declines.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 27 cents, or 0.4%, to $66.77 a barrel at 0122 GMT, adding to a 1.4% gain on Thursday.

Brent crude futures rose 12 cents, or 0.2%, to $69.79 a barrel, after climbing 1.2% in the previous session.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and allies, together called OPEC+, surprised the market on Thursday when it stuck to plans to add 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) supply in January.

However the producers left the door open to changing policy swiftly if demand suffered from measures to contain the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. They said they could meet again before their next scheduled meeting on Jan. 4, if needed.

That boosted prices with “traders reluctant to bet against the group eventually pausing its production increases,” ANZ Research analysts said in a note.

Wood Mackenzie analyst Ann-Louise Hittle said it made sense for OPEC+ to stick with their policy for now, given it was still unclear whether Omicron could resist existing vaccines.

“The group’s members are in regular contact and are monitoring the market situation closely,” Hittle said in emailed comments.

“As a result, they can react swiftly when we start to get a better sense of the scale of the impact the Omicron variant of COVID-19 could have on the global economy and demand.”

The market has been roiled all week by the emergence of Omicron and speculation that it could spark new lockdowns, dent fuel demand and spur OPEC+ to put its output increases on hold.

Brent was poised to end the week down about 4%, while WTI was on track for a 2% drop on the week, both down for a sixth straight week.

 

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Richard Pullin)

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