The Omicron coronavirus variant is continuing to spread around the world, with cases detected in nearly 50 nations and nearly one-third of U.S. states. Omicron’s proliferation has led dozens of nations to impose new travel restrictions. Beginning today, all international travelers entering the United States will have to take a coronavirus test within one day of their departure or prove that they’ve recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days. It’s still unknown whether Omicron poses more risk than earlier forms of the coronavirus. But top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday there are early indications it does not lead to more severe disease. The World Health Organization has so far not reported any deaths linked to the new variant. It’s unknown if Omicron will overtake Delta, the highly transmissible variant which now accounts for most of the world’s infections. Here in the U.S., COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in a post-Thanksgiving holiday surge, with an average of nearly 110,000 infections reported each day.
Another series of demonstrations against COVID restrictions took place over the weekend, including a rally of 40,000 people in Vienna, Austria, where a lockdown is starting today and vaccinations are set to become mandatory in February. In Belgium, protesters clashed with police in Brussels as they marched toward the EU headquarters. Demonstrations also took place in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia.
In Germany, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel used her final video podcast as the country’s leader to urge residents to get vaccinated amid a fourth COVID wave.
Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Take the malicious virus seriously. Right now the new Omicron variant seems to be more infectious than the previous ones. Get yourself vaccinated. It doesn’t matter if it is a first shot or a booster. Every vaccine helps.”
Germany is essentially barring unvaccinated people from public life.
In Jordan, a court sentenced five senior health officials to three years in prison Sunday over the deaths of 10 COVID patients after a state hospital experienced an oxygen shortage in March. The deaths triggered anti-government protests across Jordan.
The parents of the suspected Michigan high school shooter are being held on a bond of $500,000 each, after they were arrested on Saturday in a Detroit warehouse following a manhunt. James and Jennifer Crumbley pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter over last Tuesday’s mass shooting, which killed four students and wounded seven others at Oxford High School. Their 15-year-old son was charged last week with terrorism, murder and other counts. James Crumbley and his son went to buy the gun used in the massacre just days beforehand, and both parents are accused of giving their son access to a firearm even as he displayed obvious signs he was thinking about committing violent crimes.
In Burma, a court sentenced deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison. She is accused of incitement and violating COVID-19 rules, which have been blasted by rights groups as fabricated charges aimed at suppressing opposition. It’s the first verdicts of the nearly dozen charges leveled against Aung San Suu Kyi by the military junta which overthrew her government in a February 1 coup.
The Biden administration is expected to announce a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. The move would mean U.S. athletes will still compete, but no U.S. officials would attend the games, and is intended to send a signal over human rights abuses in China. It also would come amid growing concerns for star tennis player Peng Shuai, whose social media post revealing her sexual assault by a former politician was censored, and who some say is being coerced by the Chinese government.
In Indonesia, at least 15 people are dead and over two dozen are missing after Mount Semeru, one of the island nation’s most active volcanoes, erupted Saturday, spewing blistering hot ash and volcanic gas into the sky over the East Java province. Some 3,000 homes and dozens of schools have been damaged. Over 1,700 people have been evacuated, but rescue operations were suspended today as Mount Semeru continued to spew hot clouds of ash.
In India, a funeral was held for the 15 civilians killed by security forces in the northeastern border state of Nagaland over the weekend. The majority of the killings happened on Saturday after security forces say they mistook a group of mine workers for armed fighters. More people were killed in ensuing protests. The state’s chief minister is demanding the Indian government repeal a contested law which allows security forces to kill with impunity in parts of the country.
Pope Francis returned to the Greek island of Lesbos this weekend to visit a refugee camp and call on the international community to respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis of forced displacement, which he called a “shipwreck of civilization.” Pope Francis, who visited Lesbos in 2016, lamented that “little has changed” since then, as he spoke with refugees at the Mavrovouni camp, which holds about 2,300 people.
Pope Francis: “It is easy to stir up public opinion by instilling fear of others. Yet why do we fail to speak with equal vehemence about the exploitation of the poor, about seldom mentioned but often well-financed wars, about economic agreements where the people have to pay, about covert deals to traffic in arms favoring the proliferation of the arms trade? The remote causes should be attacked, not the poor people who pay the consequences or are even used for political propaganda.”
Voters in The Gambia have reelected Adama Barrow as president of the small West African nation. It was The Gambia’s first election since former President Yahya Jammeh fled into exile in 2017, 22 years after he seized power in a bloodless coup. Jammeh had refused to accept Barrow’s previous win and was forced from power by a military alliance of other West African states.
In South Africa, about 1,000 people took to a beach near Port Edward Sunday, protesting plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seismic oil exploration in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, which environmentalists say will threaten pristine wildlife refuges. The action took place after a South African court on Friday rejected an application filed by several advocates, including local fishermen and Greenpeace Africa, to stop the exploration of petroleum systems in the region. This is a fisherman at Sunday’s protest.
Sicelo Dlamini: “I don’t think this is helping the economy, but just bringing destruction. Here we can swim and do other things. But if Shell is coming here, I don’t think we’ll ever access this place.”
In Serbia, thousands of protesters blocked major roads and bridges in the capital Belgrade and in other cities and towns Saturday in opposition to a government-backed plan allowing the Rio Tinto corporation to build a massive lithium mine. Protesters said they’ve had enough of widespread pollution and are demanding clean air, water and food in Serbia.
Lena Nedeljkovic: “Of course we go out into the streets. The environment is the most important political question. It is not right that young people stay out of politics. Politics is everything that surrounds us, and the environment, in particular. So, we are against Rio Tinto and all other corporations of the sort.”
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli soldiers shot dead a 16-year-old Palestinian after he allegedly drove his car into a military checkpoint. The teen was identified as Mohammad Nidal Younis.
This comes as human rights advocates are condemning the killing of a Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli police after he stabbed an Israeli settler in occupied East Jerusalem. Al Jazeera reports footage by bystanders showed police continuing to shoot Mohammad Salima from point-blank range even after the 25-year-old had been knocked to the ground and no longer appeared to pose a threat.
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to speak via video call Tuesday amid mounting tension over the military buildup at the Russia-Ukraine border. The U.S. and other Ukrainian allies have warned Russia could soon launch an offensive, with U.S. intelligence warning last week the Kremlin could deploy as many as 175,000 troops early next year. Russia has rejected claims of an invasion and accused NATO and others of escalating the situation. Moscow has warned of consequences if Ukraine joins NATO.
In Chile, environmental advocates are demanding justice for Javiera Rojas, a 42-year-old land defender who was found dead in late November in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Rojas’s body was discovered in an empty home, buried underneath a pile of clothing. Her hands and feet were bound, and her body had multiple wounds. Rojas was well known for leading protests against a thermoelectric project in northern Chile. In 2016, she was involved in a campaign that successfully canceled a dam that would have stolen water from local communities and harmed wildlife. Two men, including Rojas’s partner, were placed under arrest while her death is investigated.
CNN fired star anchor Chris Cuomo Saturday, just four days after the cable network suspended him amid revelations he helped his brother, disgraced former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, respond to accusations of sexual misconduct. One day after his suspension last week, a lawyer told CNN about another allegation of sexual misconduct against Chris Cuomo. The accusation was made by a former colleague, though it’s not clear if that played a role in his firing. In September, Chris Cuomo’s former boss at ABC News, Shelley Ross, revealed he once touched her inappropriately at a public gathering.
In Washington, D.C., over 100 masked white supremacists from the Patriot Front paraded in front of the Lincoln Memorial and on the National Mall Saturday evening. The demonstrators wore matching blue jackets, white neck gaiters, brown boots and hats — and khaki pants similar to those worn by far-right protesters in 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. They held shields, upside-down U.S. flags, and a banner that said “Reclaim America.” Bystanders booed as the leader of the hate group gave a speech. Over two dozen participants reportedly found themselves stranded after the bizarre display, when their ride, a rented U-Haul truck, was not able to fit all of them inside.
Former senator and Republican presidential contender Bob Dole has died at the age of 98 after a struggle with lung cancer. Dole served four terms in the House of Representatives before Kansas voters sent him to the Senate in 1969. He served three years as Senate majority leader before resigning in 1996 to unsuccessfully challenge then-President Bill Clinton’s reelection. In April of 1990, Dole led a congressional delegation to visit Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Later that year, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Dole would go on to support both the 1991 U.S.-led assault on Iraq and the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Dole attended the 2016 Republican National Convention, telling USA Today, “I’m a Trumper.” He also supported Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. President Biden called him a friend and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff through Thursday in honor of Bob Dole.