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Omicron variant could outcompete Delta, South African disease expert says

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Omicron variant could outcompete Delta, South African disease expert says
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2” in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Alexander Winning

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The Omicron coronavirus variant detected in southern Africa could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious Delta variant, the director of South Africa’s communicable disease institute said on Tuesday.

The discovery of Omicron has caused global alarm, with countries limiting travel from southern Africa for fear it could spread quickly even in vaccinated populations and the World Health Organization saying it carries a high risk of infection surges.

“We thought what will outcompete Delta? That has always been the question, in terms of transmissibility at least, … perhaps this particular variant is the variant,” Adrian Puren, acting executive director of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), told Reuters in an interview.

If Omicron proves even more transmissible than the Delta variant, it could lead to a sharp spike in infections that could put pressure on hospitals.

Puren said scientists should know within four weeks to what extent Omicron can evade the immunity generated by vaccines or prior infection, and whether it leads to worse clinical symptoms than other variants.

Anecdotal accounts by doctors who have treated South African COVID-19 patients say Omicron appears to be producing mild symptoms, including a dry cough, fever and night sweats, but experts have cautioned against drawing firm conclusions.

Puren said it was too early to say whether Omicron was displacing Delta in South Africa, since local scientists have only produced 87 sequences of Omicron so far.

But the fact that cases have started to rise rapidly, especially in the most populated Gauteng province, is a sign that some displacement might already be happening.

Delta drove a third wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa that peaked at more than 26,000 cases per day in early July. Omicron is expected to trigger a fourth wave, with daily infections seen topping 10,000 by the end of the week from around 2,270 on Monday.

Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist at the NICD, said it looked like infections were rising throughout the country.

On Monday, an NICD presentation a flagged a large number of COVID-19 admissions among infants aged under two years as an area of concern. But von Gottberg cautioned against linking that with Omicron just yet.

“It looks like in fact some of those admissions might have started before the emergence of Omicron. We are also seeing that there was an increase in influenza cases just in the last month or so, and so we need to be really careful to look at the other respiratory infections,” she said.

“We are looking at the data very, very carefully, but at the moment I’m not too sure that we can link it definitively to Omicron.”

South Africa has been praised for alerting the global scientific community and WHO so quickly to Omicron — a brave move given the damage that travel restrictions imposed by multiple countries including Britain will do to its important tourism sector.

The country has reported close to 3 million COVID-19 infections during the pandemic and over 89,000 deaths, the most on the African continent.

Coronavirus

NHL postpones 14 games, will not resume before Tuesday

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NHL postpones 14 games, will not resume before Tuesday
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Jan 26, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; A view of a puck and the NHL logo and the face-off circle before the game between the Dallas Stars and the Detroit Red Wings at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) pushed back its return from the holiday break by another day after postponing Monday’s 14-game schedule to allow the league and teams time to complete COVID-19 tests and assess their ability to compete.

With the latest postponements taking the total to 64 games, the NHL said in a statement on Friday that it plans to resume the regular season on Tuesday.

“In order to allow the league an adequate opportunity to analyze league-wide testing results and assess clubs’ readiness to play, the target date for resumption of game play will be pushed back an additional day,” the league said.

“Teams will return to practice on Dec. 26 and it is expected that the league will provide an update on its return to play plans by the end of day on Sunday.”

The league was originally set to shut down from Friday to Sunday for Christmas but the NHL and its players’ union agreed this week to bring the shutdown forward to Wednesday-Saturday as coronavirus cases surge.

NHL players will not compete in the men’s ice hockey tournament at next year’s Beijing Winter Games due to COVID-19 concerns. The league said it would use the Olympic window to reschedule postponed games.

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Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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Coronavirus

Two more members of K-pop group BTS test positive for COVID-19

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Two more members of K-pop group BTS test positive for COVID-19
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: V, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Jimin and J-Hope of BTS arrive at the 2021 American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – Two more members of the K-pop group BTS on Saturday tested positive for COVID-19 following their return to South Korea from the band’s first pandemic-era concerts in the United States, their management company Big Hit Music said.

Rapper RM, 27, and vocalist Jin, 29, were diagnosed with COVID-19 a day after Suga, a songwriter and rapper for the seven-member group, tested positive.

All three had completed second doses of a coronavirus vaccine in August, the company said.

Since their 2013 debut, BTS have spearheaded a global K-Pop craze with catchy, upbeat music and dances, as well as lyrics and social campaigns aimed at empowering young people.

The concerts in the United States were BTS’ first in the country since 2019, when they toured across Asia, Europe and North America.

RM, whose real name is Kim Nam-joon, and Jin, whose real name is Kim Seok-jin, initially tested negative on returning to South Korea earlier this month.

RM, who tested positive as he prepared to leave mandatory quarantine, is showing no symptoms, Big Hit Music said.

Jin tested negative a second time as he left quarantine, but was later diagnosed after experiencing symptoms, which the company said were mild.

Neither Jin or RM had any contact with other group members after their return to South Korea, the company said.

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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Bethlehem celebrates muted Christmas with few pilgrims to bring cheer

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5/5
Bethlehem celebrates muted Christmas with few pilgrims to bring cheer
© Reuters. Worshipers attend Christmas morning mass at Saint Catherine’s Church, in the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, December 25, 2021. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

2/5

By Stephen Farrell

BETHLEHEM (Reuters) – The bells of Bethlehem rang out under grey skies on Christmas morning across streets whose closed pastel or green shutters were like an Advent calendar that nobody had turned up to open.

Shopkeepers and hotel owners in the Palestinian city reported far lower business than the years before coronavirus closures halted the arrival of wealthy foreign tourists, devastating the economy of the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

In Manger Square, hundreds of Christians – mostly those who live, work or study in Israel and the occupied West Bank – gathered near the tree and crib to sing carols and bring some cheer to the scene outside the Church of the Nativity.

But Joseph Giacaman, whose family has sold souvenirs around the square for a century, said business was around 2% of pre-pandemic years. “We were closed until three weeks ago. I have sold maybe two or three olive wood cribs. In normal years, we’d sell three or four each day throughout the year,” he said.

The back streets were virtually empty.

Star Street had been renovated in recent years in the aim of drawing crowds, but here as elsewhere the Omicron variant dashed those hopes in November when Israel began closing its borders.

‘OPEN HEARTS TO HOPE’

Earlier in December, Bethlehem mayor Anton Salman had sought to bolster morale by walking along the cobbled street at night, shaking hands of those selling mulled wine and olive wood carvings. But the market’s opening could not continue its momentum with no foreign coach parties to sell to.

Across town, Bethlehem’s grandest hotel, the Jacir Palace, lay closed and padlocked.

And in the nearby Nativity Hotel, receptionist Victor Zeidan said he was doing a 12-hour shift at lower pay to get a rare day’s work checking in Palestinian Christian and Filipino care workers who briefly boosted occupancy.

“I haven’t even celebrated this year, I didn’t get much work before so now I am taking the chance,” he said.

Jerise Qumsieh, of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Reuters that this year was better than last because there were at least some domestic visitors compared with the tighter restrictions of 2020, but that foreign tourism was “zero”.

Nevertheless, in the early hours of Saturday the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, urged a reduced midnight mass congregation to search for hope.

“In this time of health emergency and prolonged political emergency, many different voices are heard in families: some undermine confidence, take away hope, extinguish love; others, however, are more encouraging,” he said.

“We need to seek and find the voice that leads us to Jesus and to salvation, that opens hearts to hope.”

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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