France Says it is Willing to Discuss Autonomy for Guadeloupe

France is willing to discuss autonomy for the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe if it is in the interests of the people who live there, government minister Sebastien Lecornu said. Guadeloupe and the nearby French island of Martinique have seen several days of protests against COVID-19 measures that have spilled over into violence. Lecornu, the minister for France’s overseas territories, said in a YouTube video issued late on Friday that certain elected officials in Guadeloupe had raised the question of autonomy, changing its status as an overseas region. “The government is ready to talk about this. There are no bad debates, as long as those debates serve to resolve the real everyday problems of people in Guadeloupe,” he said. That was one of a series of initiatives he said the government in Paris would be taking in Guadeloupe, including improving healthcare, infrastructure projects, and a scheme to create jobs for young people. The French government this week announced that it would be postponing a requirement that public sector workers in Guadeloupe and Martinique get a COVID-19 vaccination. That had sparked protests, fanning long-standing grievances over living standards and the relationship with Paris. In Guadeloupe there is a historic mistrust of the French government’s handling of health crises after many people were exposed to toxic pesticides used in banana plantations in the 1970s.     …

India’s Serum Institute Resumes Vaccine Exports to COVAX Vaccine Sharing Program

The world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India has resumed exports of coronavirus vaccines to COVAX the partnership that is distributing vaccines to developing countries. The resumption of exports comes at a critical time when a new variant found in South Africa is causing concern around the world. India suspended exports of vaccines in March this year following a severe surge in infections during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as it used its stocks to ramp up its domestic inoculation program. The first shipments went out Friday. “This will go a long way in restoring vaccine supply equality in the world,” Serum Institute chief executive Adar Poonawalla said on Twitter. The company said in a press statement that said that it expects the supply of vaccines to COVAX to increase substantially in early 2022. The Serum Institute of India was expected to be one of the main suppliers to the vaccine sharing facility which was created to ensure global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines after the outbreak of the pandemic. The Serum Institute linked the resumption of exports to surpassing its target of producing 1 billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of this year – it has produced 1.25 billion doses so far. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which leads the COVAX program along with the World Health Organization, called the restart of exports from India an important development “as it enters its busiest period yet for shipping vaccines to participating economies.” The export …

South African Scientists Brace for Wave Propelled by Omicron

As the world grapples with the emergence of the new highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, worried scientists in South Africa — where omicron was first identified — are scrambling to combat its lightning spread across the country. In the space of two weeks, the omicron variant has sent South Africa from a period of low transmission to rapid growth of new confirmed cases. The country’s numbers are still relatively low, with 2,828 new confirmed cases recorded Friday, but omicron’s speed in infecting young South Africans has alarmed health professionals. “We’re seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients with COVID-19,” Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital, told an online press briefing. “Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65% are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated,” said Mathivha. “I’m worried that as the numbers go up, the public health care facilities will become overwhelmed.” She said urgent preparations are needed to enable public hospitals to cope with a potential large influx of patients needing intensive care. “We know we have a new variant,” said Mathivha. “The worst-case scenario is that it hits us like delta … we need to have critical care beds ready.” What looked like a cluster infection among some university students in Pretoria ballooned into hundreds of new cases and then thousands, first in the capital city and …

World Reacts to New COVID Variant

U.S. President Joe Biden announced the United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other African countries, effective Monday. Any non-U.S. citizen who has been in one of the eight nations during the 14 days before coming to the United States will be denied entry. The restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents; however, they must test negative before traveling, as must all international travelers. Biden made the announcement Friday after consulting with Dr. Anthony Fauci, his chief medical adviser. Besides South Africa, the other countries are Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Biden took the action after the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the new variant, B.1.1.529, a variant of concern and dubbed it omicron. In his announcement, Biden said he had two important messages for the American people: For those fully vaccinated, “get a booster shot as soon as you are eligible.” And “for those not yet fully vaccinated, get vaccinated today.” What is omicron? Omicron is the fifth WHO-designated variant of concern. It was first detected in recent weeks in South Africa, which has seen an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases. There are about 30 mutations on the virus’ spike protein, and scientists worry that some of them could make the virus easier to transmit. But scientists do not yet know whether omicron is in fact more transmissible or dangerous. Worries about the new variant sent financial markets reeling Friday and pushed the price of oil down by $10 …

Tourists Rush to South Africa Airport After Travel Bans Issued

Anxious-looking travelers thronged Johannesburg international airport and stood in long queues on Friday, desperate to squeeze onto the last flights to countries that had just shut their doors to South Africa. Many cut short their holidays, rushing back from safaris and vineyards when Britain announced late Thursday night that all flights from South Africa and its neighbors would be banned the following day. A flurry of nations — including the United States, Canada and several European countries — have followed suit, concerned about the discovery of a new coronavirus variant, renamed omicron, with several mutations fueling an infection resurgence in South Africa. United Kingdom citizen Toby Reid, a 24-year-old trader in London, was camping on Cape Town’s Table Mountain with his girlfriend when the ban was announced. “At about 5:30 a.m., we got up to see if we could catch the sunrise, and at six in the morning, we found out that there was still a possibility to get back,” he told AFP while standing in line for check-in at the Johannesburg airport just hours later. The couple managed to grab the last two seats on an evening flight to Frankfurt, Germany. Others who were not so lucky discussed options at ticket counters, eyes widening at proposed prices and convoluted itineraries. “There should have been more notice,” muttered Christian Good, 50, returning to Devon, England, via Frankfurt with his husband after a beach holiday. By chance, the pair had originally planned to return on that flight, meaning they would arrive …

Fauci: US Must Study Data Before Deciding on Travel Ban Over New COVID Variant

Top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said Friday that a ban on flights from southern Africa was a possibility and the United States was rushing to gather data on the new COVID-19 variant.    No decision to halt flights had yet been made, he said. The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said White House officials were discussing potential travel restrictions on southern African countries. Those officials were expected to meet with agency officials Friday afternoon to make a recommendation, the newspaper said, without specifying which agency.    The White House referred to Fauci’s earlier comments when asked about the report and declined further comment. Global authorities have reacted with alarm to the new variant, detected in South Africa, with the European Union and Britain among those tightening border controls as scientists seek to find out if the mutation is vaccine-resistant.    The World Health Organization (WHO), however, has cautioned against hasty measures and South Africa said a British ban on flights seemed rushed.    “There is always the possibility of doing what the UK has done, namely block travel from South Africa and related countries,” Fauci said in an interview on CNN.    “That’s certainly something you think about and get prepared to do. You’re prepared to do everything you need to protect the American public. But you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that,” he said.    “Obviously as soon as we find out more information we’ll make a decision as …

New COVID-19 Variant Detected in South Africa

South African scientists are scrambling to determine how quickly a newly discovered variant of the coronavirus can spread and if it is resistant to vaccines.  The new strain has led Britain to reimpose flight bans on six southern African countries, which could deal another heavy blow to their economies.  Coronavirus cases are once again on the rise in South Africa.  Amid the spike, several mutations of a new variant called the B 1.1.529 have been detected in the country, Botswana and Hong Kong.  It has sparked concern it could compete with the previously dominant delta variant and trigger another wave of the pandemic. Dr. Michelle Groome is with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. “There’s the potential that this could be more transmissible and that this, there is potential immune escape, but we don’t know yet,” said Groome. “We are busy conducting some laboratory tests, obviously, we can have a look at how, you know, this new variant reacts both to, you know, serum from people who have been infected previously, as well as vaccinated, which will give us a better idea of the potential immune escape.”   The uncertainty has prompted travel restrictions.  Britain added six African countries to its so-called red list today, requiring quarantine for incoming travelers and temporarily banning flights. The European Union also is looking at halting air travel from southern Africa.  The South African government has called the decisions “rushed” and raised concerns about the impact on business.  The CEO of South Africa’s …

Cases Soar but Swiss Reject Lockdown as COVID Law Vote Looms

Like many others in Europe, Switzerland is facing a steep rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictive measures. Analysts say it doesn’t want to stir up more opposition to its anti-COVID-19 policies, which face a crucial test at the ballot box this weekend as critics have grown increasingly loud. On Sunday, as part of the country’s regular referendums, Swiss voters will cast ballots about the so-called “COVID-19 law” that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs (dollars) in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. The law has also imposed the use of a special COVID certificate that lets only people who have been vaccinated, recovered, or tested negative attend public events and gatherings. If the Swiss give a thumbs-up, the government may well ratchet up its anti-COVID efforts. The vote offers a relatively rare bellwether of public opinion specifically on the issue of government policy to fight the coronavirus in Europe, the global epicenter of the pandemic. The continent enjoys relatively high rates of vaccination compared with countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but has been nearly alone in facing a surge in cases in recent weeks. Polls suggest a solid majority of Swiss will approve the measure, which is already in effect and the rejection of which would end the restrictions — as well as the payouts. But in recent weeks, opponents have raised heaps of cash for their campaign and drawn support from abroad, including a …

World Leaders Struggle to Raise Vaccination Rates as COVID-19 Surges

With the Northern Hemisphere heading into winter and COVID-19 cases on the rise across Europe and North America, political leaders from Washington to Brussels are struggling to persuade a pandemic-weary public to get vaccinated against the disease that has killed more than 5 million people and sickened hundreds of millions around the world. In the United States, a high-profile push by President Joe Biden to force all businesses with more than 100 employees to require workers to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing is snarled in court challenges. Across Europe this week, protests, some violent, flared as various governments announced that they would implement stricter measures to combat the disease, including many that limit the ability of unvaccinated people to take an active part in public life. Worldwide, countries have responded to the continued presence of COVID-19, now nearly two years after it was first detected, with a variety of measures, from blanket vaccine mandates for all eligible individuals to more targeted requirements for people at particular risk, like health care workers. Plentiful vaccines, variable uptake According to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, nearly 7.5 billion doses of vaccine have been administered since shots became available. Those doses have not been spread evenly around the world. The bulk of vaccines have been purchased by wealthy countries, like the United States and much of Europe. That would seem to suggest that Europe and North America would be well protected from a winter surge of the virus, but even among …

When Aliens Attack: Australia’s Native Species Under Threat

A new report warns that Australia’s native wildlife is in the “grip of an unprecedented alien attack.” Experts at the national science agency, the CSIRO, are predicting that much of the country’s unique flora and fauna is in danger of disappearing by 2050 unless urgent action is taken. Nonnative species have invaded Australia and threaten to overrun indigenous plants and animals. Invasive pests include European rabbits, which infest two-thirds of Australia, feral cats, pigs, foxes and cane toads. Introduced species are endangering more than 80% of Australia’s threatened species. A report, Fighting Plagues and Predators: Australia’s Path Towards a Pest and Weed-Free Future, highlights what researchers believe is “a looming wave of new extinctions.” The study was compiled by the CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, a government agency. Andy Sheppard, CSIRO’s research director for biosecurity, said Australia’s colonization by the British more than 200 years ago has left a devastating environmental legacy. “Look, Australia, as a lot of post-British colonial countries suffered from a huge amount of introduction of exotic species early in their colonization histories,” he said. “You know, there were societies set up to deliberately introduce stuff so that the Europeans felt more at home. Australia just like New Zealand has suffered enormously as a result. Australia unfortunately has the worst record internationally for mammalian extinction, and that is largely to do with the activities of feral cats and feral foxes.” The report released Tuesday estimated the cost of the damage caused by invasive species in …