A Russia-led military exercise held over six days near the Tajik-Afghan border, designed to demonstrate Moscow stands ready to protect Dushanbe in the event of an incursion from the south, reached its conclusion on Saturday.
Tajikistan‘s relations with the Taliban leadership in Kabul have been strained from the start and reports of troop build-up on both sides of the border have alarmed Moscow, which operates a military base in the former Soviet republic.
The exercise, carried out by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), which also includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, involved over 4,000 troops as well as tanks, artillery and assault aircraft.
“This is the first time an event of this scale is being held,” Tajik Defence Minister Sherali Mirzo told reporters at the site.
CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas said the war games were aimed at showing “that no incursions into Tajikistan’s territory will be allowed,” adding “we will not leave Tajikistan alone in the face of danger.”
Millions of Tajiks live in Afghanistan, comprising its second largest ethnic group, and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon has criticised the predominantly Pashtun Taliban for failing to set up an ethnically diverse cabinet.
The Taliban has forged an alliance with an ethnic Tajik militant group seeking to overthrow Rakhmon, according to Russian media reports.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mike Harrison)
BC floods: Evacuation ordered in Abbotsford area – CTV News
British Columbia says it’s prepared to use a national emergency alert system should the third in a trio of ongoing storms pose a risk to life and safety in the coming days.
Alert Ready is a Canada-wide system that allows government officials to issue public safety alerts through major television and radio broadcasters, as well as compatible wireless devices. B.C. has faced criticism for not using it during deadly natural disasters this year.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says provincial officials are working with local governments, First Nations and emergency managers, adding the province is prepared to use the system should a community feel there is an imminent threat.
Farnworth made the comment during a briefing on an ongoing series of storms in the province in which officials warned that the third one, due to make landfall Monday, could reach intensities similar to those that destroyed highways, flooded communities and prompted mass evacuations two weeks ago.
Armel Castellan of Environment and Climate Change Canada says there is a lot of uncertainty at this stage, and while meteorologists hope the impacts remain as low as possible, they are urging maximum caution, vigilance and readiness for a “very strong storm and swell.”
The River Forecast Centre issued a new flood warning for the Coquihalla River and says the Nooksack River in the United States is at risk of overflowing its banks late today and spilling into Sumas Prairie.
Meanwhile, a new set of evacuation orders were issued for 56 properties in the Petit Creek-Spius Creek area west of Merritt, B.C.
“We’re in the middle of one of the most intense series of storms that we have seen along coastal B.C.,” Farnworth said.
“Once again, it’s time to be ready.”
Canada's first cases of the omicron coronavirus variant confirmed in Ottawa – CBC.ca
There are two confirmed cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in Ottawa, the Ontario government announced Sunday.
“Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation,” the statement said.
These are the first cases of the omicron variant confirmed in Canada, coming just days after the country implemented new travel restrictions on foreign nationals who had visited several countries in southern Africa over the preceding two weeks.
Those travel restrictions went into effect on Friday. The omicron variant was first identified by South African researchers and has provoked global concern.
Little is known about the new variant, dubbed omicron by the World Health Organization and labelled as a variant of concern. It is being linked to a rapid rise of cases in a South African province.
It is not known at this time whether the variant is more transmissible, or more dangerous to the health of those who are infected by it, than other coronavirus variants.
“The best defence against the omicron variant is stopping it at our border. In addition to the measures recently announced, we continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant,” said the statement from Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
The provincial government urged residents to get vaccinated, including with booster doses, and to continue following public health guidance.
“Ontario is prepared and ready to respond to this new variant.”
More confirmed cases likely: health minister
In a statement released Sunday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the confirmation of two omicron cases is a signal that the country’s monitoring system is working but to expect more cases of the variant.
“As the monitoring and testing continues with provinces and territories, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada,” Duclos said.
“I know that this new variant may seem concerning,” he added, but said existing vaccines and public health measures were helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In a separate statement, the Public Health Agency of Canada said border measures could change as the situation develops.
“The Government of Canada will continue to assess the evolving situation and adjust border measures as required,” it said
‘Better to be safe than sorry’
Reacting to the news, epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos emphasized the lack of information the world has so far about the omicron variant, noting that some other variants failed to take hold and out-compete the dominant strain.
“While it’s important not to under-react, it’s important not to overreact. We don’t have a lot of information about whether this variant is actually more dangerous than the variants that we’ve dealt with,” he said in an interview on CBC News Network.
Still, he said it was “better to be safe than sorry” and take precautions. But he said that until there was more information, it was not necessary to radically change behaviour, so long as you are vaccinated and otherwise acting in accordance with public health guidance.
“The stuff that worked before should work now.”
WHO urges countries to keep borders open
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement on Sunday summarizing what it knows about the variant. It said it is studying whether the variant is more transmissible than those currently spreading, such as delta, as well as whether omicron increases the risk of reinfection, as suggested by “preliminary evidence.”
The idea of travel bans in response to new variants has long been criticized by some as an ineffective measure at stopping the spread of the virus. South Africa has said the travel measures are “unjustified.”
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said instituting travel bans targeted at southern Africa “attacks global solidarity.”
“COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions,” Moeti said.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that aired prior to the government announcement on Sunday, WHO special adviser Dr. Peter Singer said it “wouldn’t be a surprise” if the variant was in Canada.
He said the United Nations agency believes travel restrictions should be “risk-based and time-limited,” part of a comprehensive package, rather than the only measure taken to mitigate the risk of a new variant.
“They’re definitely not a silver bullet,” he said. Singer argued the international community should not create situations that disincentive countries from being transparent about new variants.
Singer said the most important things Canadians can do to protect themselves are the same as they have been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: get vaccinated and follow public health measures.
“This is a call for individuals to raise their guard. There are things individuals can do which help with any variant or any version of this virus, including omicron.”
He urged Canada and other countries to redouble their efforts to provide resources to the global vaccination campaign, saying that’s the best way to stop the spread of omicron and potential future variants.
Canada finds first cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant in Ontario. Here’s what we know – Globalnews.ca
Canada has detected its first two cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
A statement from Ontario’s Ministry of Health confirmed that cases of the variant, recently declared as the novel coronavirus’ fifth variant of concern by the WHO, have been identified in Ontario.
“Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation,” read the statement Sunday.
COVID-19: Doctors encourage vaccination as Omicron variant emerges
“In addition to the measures recently announced, we continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant.”
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore is set to hold a press conference on the variant’s discovery Monday morning, according to the statement.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos also confirmed Canada’s first two cases in a statement Sunday evening, and said that he was working with the province’s public health officials to contact trace the cases.
“As the monitoring and testing continues with provinces and territories, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada,” read Duclos’ statement.
Staying ahead of a new COVID variant of concern
“I know that this new variant may seem concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our communities.”
South African scientists first identified the heavily mutated variant earlier this week after an exponential surge in cases, prompting a host of nations — including Canada — to impose new travel restrictions on a wide swathe of southern African countries.
Public health experts and officials were alarmed by the variant’s high number of mutations — with preliminary data showing at first an increased potential for transmissibility, a reduction in vaccine effectiveness and increased reinfection.
Other experts were quick to point out South Africa’s low rates of vaccination, which currently sit at under 30 per cent of the total population, as well as a lack of evidence suggesting the variant is deadlier than the current dominant strains of the virus.
COVID-19: South African president “deeply disappointed” by travel restrictions due to Omicron variant
Canadian public health officials previously said that getting vaccinated was still the best way of preventing the most severe outcomes from contracting COVID-19, and that there was no definitive evidence yet of its ability to completely circumvent the protection offered by the inoculations.
Canada’s Chief Public Officer Dr. Theresa Tam also confirmed the detection of the new variant, and said that Canada has a “robust monitoring” system in place to detect genetic changes in the virus or new variants of concern, such as the Omicron.
“Last Friday, Canada announced additional travel measures for all travellers coming into Canada from the South African region. It is not unexpected that additional cases of this variant will be discovered in Canada,” read Tam’s statement.
A handful of vaccine makers have recently announced that they were also developing or examining ways to enhance or create new versions of their shots to combat Omicron.
The most recent was that of Moderna, whose chief medical officer Dr. Paul Burton told BBC that a new vaccine could be produced by “early 2022” if it was necessary.
“The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, Moderna platform, is we can move very fast,” he said, noting that the company started work on an Omicron vaccine on Thursday.
Canada’s vaccination rates also stand among the highest in the world, with nearly 80 per cent of the country’s eligible population already vaccinated against COVID-19.
COVID-19: Vaccine against Omicron variant could be ready by early 2022, Moderna says
Public health experts told Global News earlier on Friday shortly before Canada’s announcement of new travel restrictions that they would not be surprised if the variant was “already here” and spreading within Canada’s borders.
On Sunday, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia became the latest countries alongside Canada to discover the new variant among their cases.
The variant has already been found in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong, the U.K., Germany and Italy.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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