© 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 and Tim Cocks
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Data from an area in South Africa hard-hit by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has shown a high number of hospital admissions of infants under 2 years old, raising concerns that the variant may pose risks to young children.
South African scientists have said they cannot yet confirm a link between Omicron and the high admissions of infants, which could be due to other factors. Here is what we do and do not know about the issue.
WHAT IS CAUSING CONCERN?
The data, released by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), shows that 52 infants under age 2 were among 452 COVID-19 patients admitted in Tshwane – the metropolitan area that includes the capital Pretoria – in the period between Nov. 14 and 28, a higher number than for any other age group.
However, taking into account the size of the populations of the various age groups, the risk of admission was higher for people over age 60.
HAVE THE ADMISSIONS BEEN LINKED TO OMICRON?
No. Only a small percentage of positive test samples in South Africa are being submitted for genomic sequencing to detect the variant due to limited capacity. That means we cannot know for sure whether the infants in hospital were infected with Omicron, NICD scientists have said.
There is also uncertainty about whether all of the infants included in the data are infected with COVID-19, as not all are tested for the virus, scientists said.
For practical reasons, infants who present with respiratory symptoms are treated as if they had COVID-19, but they could be sick with another disease such as flu.
HOW SICK WERE THE ADMITTED INFANTS?
The data shows that 29% of COVID-19 admissions in the 0-to-4 age group had severe disease – a proportion similar to that in several other age groups, and significantly lower than the percentage of severe disease among patients over 60.
Among those age 4 or younger, 1% of admissions resulted in death, according to the data. However, the total number of admissions in that group was 70, making it unclear what the 1% figure represents.
The NICD did not respond to a query from Reuters about that and other elements of the data, saying it would issue a new report on paediatric admissions later this week.
SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT A POTENTIAL OMICRON LINK?
Asked whether people should be alarmed by the infant admissions numbers, Professor Anne von Gottberg, clinical microbiologist at the NICD, told Reuters: “Not yet.”
“It looks like in fact some of those admissions might have started before the emergence of Omicron,” she said. “We are concerned enough that 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.”
WHAT ELSE COULD BE GOING ON?
The province of Gauteng, where Tshwane is located, has experienced an increase in flu cases in the past month.
“We need to be really careful to look at the other respiratory infections and diseases to work out why were children being admitted. Were they being tested as they were being admitted or was it precautionary?” said von Gottberg.
NICD scientists also said that parents with sick babies and infants were quick to bring them to hospital, while patients in other age groups were less likely to rush in.
WHEN WILL WE KNOW MORE?
The NICD said it was preparing a report on paediatric admissions which should be available by the end of the week.
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday it expected to have data on Omicron’s transmissibility within days, but scientists said it could take two-to-four weeks to learn more about the variant.
U.S. Capitol riot panel promises new evidence at surprise Tuesday hearing
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A video of former U.S President Donald Trump speaking is shown on a screen during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.
By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee plans to reveal new evidence about the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters at a public hearing on Tuesday it hastily announced a mere 24 hours earlier.
The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, declined to answer questions about who might testify or what evidence would be presented.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, several media outlets reported. Representatives of the panel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.
The meeting, announced on Monday, is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Tuesday.
Testimony at five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.
British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of his interviews with Trump and his family, according to media reports.
The committee has said it intends to interview Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden’s victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intended to speak to the panel.
U.S. law enforcement last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false fraud claims.
This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.
Dozens of courts, state election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his claims of fraud, some of which included outlandish stories about an Italian security firm or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.
Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and accused the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believe Trump’s false election fraud claims.
The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.
During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.
Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.
Rescuers dig for survivors after Russian missiles demolish Ukrainian shopping mall
© Reuters. Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Picture taken June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko
By Simon Lewis
KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Firefighters and soldiers searched on Tuesday for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine after a Russian missile strike killed at least 18 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.
More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in Kremenchuk, about 300 km (200 miles) southeast of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.
At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, Poltava region governor Dmytro Lunin said.
Zelenskiy, in an overnight video address, called the attack deliberate, saying it was “a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre”.
Russia said the incident was caused by a strike on a legitimate military target. Its defence ministry, quoted by the RIA state news agency, said it had fired missiles at a storage depot for Western weapons in Kremenchuk, and the detonation of stored ammunition there had caused the fire at the nearby mall.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters a missile had also struck a nearby factory, but it was closed and not a military target.
“It’s a question about crimes against humanity,” she said. “I think it’s like systematical shelling of civilian infrastructure – with what aim? To scare people, to kill people to make terror in our cities and villages.”
Relatives of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers set up a base after Monday’s strike.
A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk’s public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.
“I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing,” she said.
“It was hell,” said her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage around his head.
At the scene of the blaze on Tuesday morning, exhausted-looking firefighters sat on a kerb. Oleksandr, wetting his face from a water bottle on a bench, said his team had worked all night picking through the rubble.
“We pulled out five bodies. We didn’t find anybody alive,” he said.
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.
“Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they said in a joint statement.
BATTLE FOR LYSYCHANSK
Russia denies intentionally targetting civilians in its “special military operation” which has destroyed cities, killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.
The U.N. Security Council, where Moscow wields a veto, will meet on Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was deplorable.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk.
Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River. Ukraine said the Russians attempted to storm it.
Lysychansk is the last big city held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take Kyiv early in the war.
Eight residents including a child were killed and 21 wounded by shelling when they gathered to get drinking water in Lysychansk on Monday, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Ukrainian forces controlled the city but its loss was possible as Russia poured resources into the fight, he added.
“They really want this and a lot of reserves are being thrown just for this…We do not need to lose an army for the sake of one city,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Rodion Miroshnik, the ambassador to Moscow of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city stadium.
Fighting was going on in several surrounding villages, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on Telegram.
Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.
The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among the wounded, the governor said.
During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders vowed to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and tighten the squeeze on Russia’s finances with new sanctions that include a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil.
Russia expands U.S. sanctions list to include Biden’s wife and daughter
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Marine One as they return from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday expanded its U.S. ‘stop-list’, including in it the wife and daughter of President Joe Biden as well as other prominent figures.
The step was taken “as a response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
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