Countries are scrambling to prevent the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, which the World Health Organization designated a “variant of concern” last week, triggering new travel restrictions and sending stocks tumbling. Japan, Morocco and Israel have barred entry for international travelers, while other countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and the European Union, have reimposed entry bans from nations in southern Africa, where Omicron was first detected. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa slammed the move and called for the bans to be lifted.
President Cyril Ramaphosa: “The emergence of the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue. Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone will continue to be at risk. … Instead of prohibiting travel, the rich countries of the world need to support the efforts of developing countries — economies, that is — to access and to manufacture enough vaccine doses for their people without delay.”
Outside of South Africa, cases have been reported in Australia, Hong Kong and a growing list of European nations. It’s still unclear if the variant — which has about 50 mutations — causes more severe illness, is more transmissible or can evade immunity proffered by vaccines.
Here in the U.S., New York has already declared a state of emergency in preparation for a possible Omicron surge, though no cases have yet been reported. Meanwhile, President Biden called for a waiver on intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines ahead of a scheduled World Trade Organization ministerial meeting this week. But that meeting has since been delayed indefinitely, after Omicron led to new travel restrictions that barred many participants from reaching scheduled talks in Geneva.
The Biden administration is sending medical teams to Michigan, which is at the forefront of the latest U.S. surge, accounting for around one in 10 new cases. Infections shot up by two-thirds last week, and hospitalizations increased by nearly 50% over the past two weeks. Just 54% of Michigan residents are fully vaccinated, lower than the national average of 59%. Unvaccinated people represent the vast majority of deaths and severe cases.
In Georgia, a jury rendered guilty verdicts for the three white men who chased down and murdered the unarmed 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020, while he was out for a jog. Outside the Glynn County Courthouse, crowds erupted into cheers as the verdicts were announced Wednesday. This is Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones.
Wanda Cooper-Jones: “I never thought this day would come. But God is good. And I just want to tell everybody: Thank you. Thank you for those who marched, those who prayed, most of all the ones who prayed. Thank you, guys. Thank you. Now Quez — which you know him as Ahmaud, I know him as Quez — he will now rest in peace.”
Twenty-seven refugees drowned in the English Channel last Wednesday in what the International Organization for Migration said is the biggest loss of life to occur in the maritime crossing between France and the U.K. since the U.N. agency started collecting data in 2014. Three of the victims were children. Vigils were held on both sides of the Channel.
Marwa Mezdour: “We can say this happened because of smugglers, but it’s the responsibility of these deadly migration policies, above all. We see this every day. What’s happening is a policy of harassment, of tiring them out, and really degrading, inhuman treatment of exiled persons, be it in Calais, Grande-Synthe, anywhere here in northern France.”
The tragedy sparked tensions between France and Britain, with the U.K. home secretary being shut out of a meeting among European officials about the humanitarian crisis. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain should turn away any refugees that do arrive on British shores from the French port city of Calais.
In Honduras, leftist presidential candidate Xiomara Castro has claimed victory as preliminary results showed her leading the runner-up by nearly 20%, with 40% of ballots counted. The historic election saw a record voter turnout. Thousands of Castro’s supporters took to the streets of Tegucigalpa to celebrate what could be the end of the 12-year brutal regime under the conservative National Party, which rose to power after a U.S.-backed coup in 2009 overthrew democratically elected leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Xiomara Castro is Zelaya’s wife. If her victory is confirmed, Castro would become the first woman ever elected as president of Honduras.
Xiomara Castro: “We are going to build a new era. Out with the death squads. Out with corruption. Out with drug trafficking and organized crime. No more poverty and misery. To victory. The people will always be united. Together, we are going to transform this country.”
Tensions are mounting between Russia and Ukraine as U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have sounded the alarm over the Russian troop buildup near the nations’ shared border. Russia’s head of intelligence has denied any plans to invade Ukraine and said such reports are part of U.S. propaganda efforts. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday a group of Ukrainians and Russians is planning a coup against him in the coming days. Meanwhile, residents in Ukraine’s rebel-held east say the ongoing conflict between separatists and government forces is getting worse and that shelling has intensified in recent days.
Tatiana Toloshina: “We hear the shelling. We live in constant fear, because it is impossible. You never know where it’s going and where it will land. It’s scary, and we’ve been living in this fear for many years now. It has been eight years.”
In Ethiopia, state media is reporting government forces gained control of the town of Chifra in the Afar region, days after broadcasting video of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claiming victory from the frontlines of the year-long conflict with northern Tigrayan forces. Al Jazeera is reporting dead bodies covered the streets of Chifra after the latest fighting. Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of the conflict, which has led to a devastating humanitarian crisis, as well as likely war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In Nigeria, residents of the Niger Delta say another massive oil spill is poisoning their land and water and threatening their livelihoods. The latest spill began in southern Bayelsa state on November 1, after a high-pressure oil well ruptured, spewing noxious fumes into the air and sending yellow-brown clumps of waste into the nearby mangrove forests and surrounding river. Residents say the spill has killed off fish and other wildlife and forced them to evacuate their homes.
Benson Daniel: “We are now sick because of this gas exploration. We can’t cook in our house because we are scared we may start a fire. Just see how this area is.”
In Turkey, riot police shot rubber bullets and tear gas at women as they rallied to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Istanbul Thursday. This is one of the protesters.
Merve Türk: “We are here because the Istanbul Convention is not implemented. We are here to say no to femicide. Every day hundreds of women are killed — not just women, the killings have affected children, too. We are gathering here not to grieve, but rather to revolt.”
Protests against gender-based violence took place around the globe last week, including in Spain, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.
Minnesota Congressmember Ilhan Omar is calling on congressional leaders to sanction Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, after the far-right lawmaker joked to her constituents that Omar was a suicide bomber. Boebert’s hateful remarks were shared on Twitter, where they’ve received over 5 million views.
Rep. Lauren Boebert: “I look to my left, and there she is: Ilhan Omar. And I say, 'Well, she doesn't have a backpack. We should be fine.’”
Rep. Lauren Boebert: “And I said, 'Oh, look, the Jihad Squad decided to show up for work today.'”
In 2018, Congressmember Omar became the first Somali American and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She tweeted after Boebert’s remarks, “Anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t funny & shouldn’t be normalized. Congress can’t be a place where hateful and dangerous Muslims tropes get no condemnation.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has yet to condemn Boebert’s statements.
In Britain, climate justice activists blocked over a dozen Amazon distribution centers on Black Friday — one of the busiest shopping days of the year — denouncing the online retail giant for perpetuating “obsessive overconsumption.” This is an activist with Extinction Rebellion.
Daisy Pearson: “The reality is that we can’t tackle the climate crisis without addressing the culture of greed and exploitation that got us here in the first place. COP26 has just been and gone and failed, because it was not designed to address the wider economic system that relies on this unlimited economic growth at the expense of our natural resources.”
Amazon worker strikes on Black Friday were reported in Germany, France and Italy.
In more labor news, unionized staff at The New York Times’ product review site Wirecutter launched a five-day strike ahead of Black Friday and called for a reader boycott as contract negotiations continue.