“It’s not going to take long before it becomes obvious in other places, but it’s clearer earlier here,” Dr. Barrett said. “I think other countries should basically assume the same thing is happening.”

The genomic surveillance could also give Britain a head start in determining how severe Omicron cases are, though there will be a lag because it takes days or weeks for a person who gets infected to become seriously ill.

“It is increasingly evident that Omicron is highly infectious and there is emerging laboratory and early clinical evidence to suggest that both vaccine-acquired and naturally acquired immunity against infection is reduced for this variant,” Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser to the Health Security Agency, said in a statement.

Experts fear what that could mean for Britain’s already struggling National Health Service.

“A lot of staff have left or are burnt out,” Dr. English said, after months of dealing with the strains of the pandemic. “Now we’ve going to have another big hit — very likely — from Omicron. I am really, really sympathetic toward my poor colleagues working in clinical practice at the moment.”

said in a statement that the country had been having “increasingly high incidences of Covid-19 for some time,” adding that “health care workers are rightly worried about the impact the Omicron variant could have” on the health system’s ability to function if caseloads rise fast.

Some hospitals have already canceled elective care again, a strategy seen at the start of the pandemic to free up resources for treating coronavirus patients. Patients are already experiencing hourslong waits for ambulances as a result of the existing pressures on the system, Dr. Nagpaul added.

“While the number of Covid hospitalizations today is much lower than last winter, we must not risk complacency by ignoring the rapid doubling of Omicron cases every two to three days,” he said.

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World Omicron Fight Hindered by Fragmented Response

ROME — In a wrenchingly familiar cycle of tracking first cases, pointing fingers and banning travel, nations worldwide reacted Monday to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the piecemeal fashion that has defined — and hobbled — the pandemic response all along.

As here-we-go-again fear and resignation gripped much of the world, the World Health Organization warned that the risk posed by the heavily mutated variant was “very high.” But operating once again in a vacuum of evidence, governments chose approaches that differed between continents, between neighboring countries, and even between cities within those countries.

Little is known about Omicron beyond its large number of mutations; it will be weeks, at least, before scientists can say with confidence whether it is more contagious — early evidence suggests it is — whether it causes more serious illness, and how it responds to vaccines.

In China, which had been increasingly alone in sealing itself off as it sought to eradicate the virus, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party gloated about democracies that are now following suit as Japan, Australia and other countries gave up flirting with a return to normalcy and slammed their borders shut to the world. The West, it said, had hoarded vaccines at the expense of poorer regions, and was now paying a price for its selfishness.

announced that government employees, health care workers and staff and students at most schools must be vaccinated by Jan. 22.

tied to a single soccer team — and Scotland reported six, while the numbers in South Africa continued to soar.

Experts warned that the variant will reach every part of the world, if it hasn’t already.

The leaders of the world’s top powers insisted that they understood this, but their assurances also had a strong whiff of geopolitics.

President Xi Jinping of China offered one billion doses of Covid vaccine to Africa, on top of nearly 200 million that Beijing has already shipped to the continent, during an address to a conference in Senegal by video link.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, boasted of China’s success in thwarting virus transmission, and said the West was now paying the price for its selfish policies. “Western countries control most of the resources needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” it wrote. “But they have failed to curb the spread of the virus and have exposed more and more developing countries to the virus.”

told France Inter radio on Monday that variants would continue to emerge unless richer countries shared more vaccines. “We need a much more systemic approach,” she said.

“zero Covid” strategy.

China has steadfastly kept a high wall against visitors from the rest of the world. Foreign residents and visa holders are allowed in only under limited circumstances, leading to concerns by some within the business world that Covid restrictions were leaving the country increasingly isolated.

Visitors must submit to two-week quarantines upon arrival and face potential limits on their movement after that. Movements are tracked via monitoring smartphone apps, which display color codes that can signal whether a person has traveled from or through an area with recent infections, triggering instructions to remain in one place.

In other parts of Asia, people are less focused on eradicating the virus than just surviving it.

“This news is terrifying,” said Gurinder Singh, 57, in New Delhi, who worried about his shop going under. “If this virus spreads in India, the government will shut the country again, and we will be forced to beg.”

Reporting was contributed by Declan Walsh from Nairobi, Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem, Carlos Tejada from Seoul, Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, India, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Elian Peltier and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Megan Specia from London, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin, Emma Bubola from Rome and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.

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Female Afghan Judges and Lawyers Now Fear For Their Lives

When Nabila was a judge in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, she granted divorces to women whose husbands were sometimes jailed for assaulting or kidnapping them. Some of the men threatened to kill her after they had served their time, she said.

In mid-August, as the Taliban poured into Kabul and seized power, hundreds of prisoners were set free. Men once sentenced in Nabila’s courtroom were among them, according to the judge. Like the other women interviewed for this article, her full name has been withheld for her protection.

Within days, Nabila said, she began receiving death threat calls from former prisoners. She moved out of her house in Kabul and went into hiding as she sought ways to leave Afghanistan with her husband and three young daughters.

“I lost my job and now I can’t even go outside or do anything freely because I fear these freed prisoners,” Nabila said by phone from a safe house. “A dark future is awaiting everyone in Afghanistan, especially female judges.”

gains made by women over the past two decades. Female judges and lawyers have left the courts under Taliban pressure, abruptly erasing one of the signal achievements of the United States and allied nations since 2001.

The women have not only lost their jobs, but also live in a state of perpetual fear that they or their loved ones could be tracked down and killed.

worked in Afghanistan for several years. She said she is representing 13 female lawyers and judges who are trying to leave the country.

nearly 90 percent of women experienced some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to a 2008 study by the United States Institute of Peace.

These judges helped to bring some reform to many courts, particularly in urban areas, delivering justice to growing numbers of women and girls beaten and abused by husbands or male relatives.

The women defied a legal system that favored husbands, granting divorces to Afghan wives who in many cases would previously have been doomed to stay in abusive marriages. Among those now in hiding are former lawyers and judges who defended abused women or pursued cases against men accused of beating, kidnapping or raping women and girls.

the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15. She is trying to leave Afghanistan with her mother and two brothers, one of them a former government soldier, she said.

“I lost my job, and now my whole family is at risk, not just me,” Behista said.

shot and killed on their way to work in Kabul.

Male judges and police officers often resisted reforms to the justice system, and pressured women to rescind their complaints from the court. A Human Rights Watch report released in August said the system had failed to provide accountability for violence against women and girls and had undermined progress to protect women’s rights.

The report said landmark legislation passed in 2009, the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, was often sabotaged by male officials despite some progress in bringing justice to victims under the law.

World Bank, more than half of all Afghan women lack national ID cards compared with about 6 percent of men. And for many of the women who do have documents, theirs efforts to escape are complicated by a husband or child who does not.

To assist Afghan women, Ms. Motley suggested reviving Nansen Passports, first issued in 1922 to refugees and stateless people after World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Some female judges and lawyers have managed to escape Afghanistan. Polish authorities recently helped 20 women and their families leave, Justice Glazebrook said, and 24 female judges have been evacuated to Greece since August, according to the Greek foreign ministry.

November 2016 suicide bomb attack on the German consulate.

“I was getting threats for the past five years,” Friba said.

In 2014, she secured a divorce for her sister who had been forced to marry a Talib at age 17 under the movement’s first regime. Her sister has since fled to Egypt with their three children. “He is still after her,” she said.

Mr. Karimi, a member of the Taliban cultural commission, denied that the former judges and lawyers were at risk. He said they were covered by a general amnesty for all Afghans who served the previous government.

“To those people who are living in hiding: We are telling them that they should feel free, we won’t do anything to you,” Mr. Karimi said. “It’s their own country. They can live very freely and easily.”

Justice Glazebrook rejected this.

“These women believed in their country, believed in human rights and believed in the importance of the rule of law and their duty to uphold it,” she said.

As a result, she said, “They are at risk of losing their lives.”

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens, and Ruhullah Khapalwak from Vancouver.

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These U.S. Veterans Won’t Rest Until They’ve Kept a Promise to Afghans

An informal network that includes former government and military officials is working around the clock to fulfill a pledge to save Afghans who put their lives on the line for America.


FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Rex Sappenfield does not sleep well. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan, he is tormented by the fate of his interpreter, an Afghan with a wife and three young children to whom Mr. Sappenfield made a battlefield promise: We will never abandon you.

Now a high school English teacher who tries to instill a sense of rectitude in his students, Mr. Sappenfield has thought about his pledge every day since the United States pulled out of Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

“We broke a promise, and I just feel terrible,” Mr. Sappenfield, 53, said. “I said it to the faces of our Afghan brothers: ‘Hey guys, you can count on us, you will get to come to the United States if you wish.’”

But if America has withdrawn from Afghanistan, Mr. Sappenfield and many other veterans have not. He is part of an informal network — including the retired general who once commanded his unit, retired diplomats and intelligence officers and a former math teacher in rural Virginia — still working to fulfill a promise and save the Afghan colleagues who risked their lives for America’s long fight in Afghanistan.

the American evacuation.

“I tell my students in 11th grade that they are the only ones who can betray their integrity,” Mr. Sappenfield said. “It’s theirs to give away if they choose to lie or cheat. But in this case, someone else broke my word for me. It just irritates the heck out of me.”

Did our service matter?

The question gnawed at Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson as he drafted a letter in August to the men and women with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. “Nothing,” he wrote, “can diminish your selfless service to our nation.”

Nothing — not the Taliban’s sweeping takeover after two decades of war, not the desperate Afghans falling from planes, not disbelief that Afghanistan had fallen overnight to the same enemy that the Americans had vanquished 20 years ago.

“I felt I had to say to the guys, ‘Hey, get your heads up,’” said General Nicholson, who retired as a three-star in 2018. Recalling the 92 Marines who died under his command in Helmand Province, the 2,461 American service members overall who died in Afghanistan and the untold treasure lost, he wrote to his fellow Marines:

“You raised your hand and said, ‘IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?’”

the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, the network worked with soldiers and intelligence officers on the ground in Afghanistan. She showed The Times a list of Afghan names, including large families, a few marked in purple with the words “GOT OUT!!!”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“Among Americans there is no shared scar tissue from the wars,” said J. Kael Weston, a retired foreign service officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside General Nicholson and has been part of the network. “A culture gap opened up.”

In rural Virginia, Ms. Hemp and others are still working to save more Afghans. She has three young grandchildren and doesn’t have to do this, given that many Americans have already forgotten Afghanistan, or scarcely paid attention to it before.

“I was raised with the Golden Rule, an honor code,” she said. “You do not lie to people. You honor your promises.”

She looked out at her crab apple tree and the rolling green fields. “People today don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. ‘Choices have consequences’ is now ‘choices have consequences for everyone but me.’ People are just so angry.”

On many days, Mr. Sappenfield speaks on Zoom with P, the interpreter. They exchange videos of their children but more often they talk about fear and frustration. The fear is about the Taliban. The frustration is with the State Department, which has been slow walking his visa application for many years.

“They are not taking any action,” P said in a Zoom call. “I feel hopeless. I feel I will be killed in front of my kids.”

For more than a decade, P has been caught in the Catch-22 labyrinth of the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, application process. He has already had two visa interviews — on March 3, 2020, and April 6 of this year — at the now closed U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Yet in a Sept. 21 email to Ms. Hemp, a foreign service officer wrote that P still needed another interview. “Obviously,” the officer added, “that will not be happening in Kabul.”

He concluded, “Sorry this is so murky and chaotic.”

Ms. Hemp responded bluntly. “In this day and age of online meetings, zoom conference calls, FaceTime calls, Messenger video chat, why can’t they do an online interview?” she wrote.

The foreign service officer checked with a colleague in Washington, who confirmed that, given the closure of the embassy in Kabul, there was no way for P to get another interview unless he managed to leave Afghanistan.

“Then the SIV case can be transferred to that country,” the officer wrote. “So, it seems to be a Catch-22 situation.”

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said on Capitol Hill last month that only about 3 percent of the Afghans evacuated to the United States during the American withdrawal actually have special immigrant visas.

P’s application was first submitted in April 2010, when Mr. Sappenfield’s unit was rotating out of Helmand. Had the process not been so labyrinthine, P would have gotten out of Afghanistan before it fell to the Taliban. Now he is trapped.

In an email, a State Department spokeswoman said the effort to help people like P was “of utmost importance” but acknowledged that “it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country” in order to have a visa interview.

P has not given up. Every day there is a different word on flights. So far, none have had a spot for him.

Ms. Hemp, Mr. Sappenfield, Mr. Britton and General Nicholson haven’t given up, either.

“Since the weather is changing, people are asking me to find blankets and warm clothes for their families in Afghanistan,” Ms. Hemp wrote recently. “Of course, they continue to ask when their loved ones will be evacuated. No clue, probably never, but I don’t dare tell them that.”

Mr. Sappenfield, a religious man, also recently wrote: “Haunted by the promises I made but my government wouldn’t allow me to keep, I ponder my own Judgment Day.

“Irreverently, perhaps, I am hoping for a front row seat when that day of reckoning comes for those responsible for these crimes against humanity.”

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A Journey Through Merkel’s Germany: Affluent, Anxious and Almost Normal

As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.


STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.

Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacation and a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.

All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.

“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.

But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.

parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.

successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.

phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.

Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.

Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.

She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.

“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”

lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.

But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”

Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.

Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.

Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.

That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.

was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.

Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.

Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.

On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.

“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”

Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”

She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.

“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.

“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”

Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.

Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.

This time they won.

“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.

Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.

“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”

Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.

“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.

The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”

“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Canada Election 2021: Justin Trudeau Projected to Remain Prime Minister

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political gamble failed to pay off Monday when Canadian voters returned him to office but denied him the expanded bloc of power he was seeking in Parliament.

Election returns late on Monday showed that while he would remain prime minister, it will again be as the head of a minority government, Canadian broadcasters projected.

In August, with his approval ratings high, Mr. Trudeau called a “snap election,” summoning voters to the polls two years before he had to. The goal, he said, was to obtain a strong mandate for his Liberal Party to lead the nation out of the pandemic and into recovery.

But many Canadians suspected that his true ambitions were mere political opportunism, and that he was trying to regain the parliamentary majority the Liberals had until they lost seats in the 2019 election.

Mr. O’Toole, seeking to broaden Conservatives’ appeal, produced a 160-page campaign platform that essentially turned the party’s back on many once-central positions, like opposition to carbon taxes.

Mr. Trudeau broke ethics laws when he and his staff pressured his justice minister, an Indigenous woman, in 2018 to offer a large Canadian engineering firm a deal allowing it to avoid a criminal conviction on corruption charges. Last year a charity with close ties to the Trudeau family was awarded a no-bid contract to administer a Covid-19 financial assistance plan for students. The group withdrew, the program was canceled and Mr. Trudeau was cleared of conflict of interest allegations.

And while Mr. Trudeau champions diversity and racial justice, it came out during the 2019 vote that he had worn blackface or brownface at least three times in the past.

“Every Canadian has met a Justin Trudeau in their lives — privileged, entitled and always looking out for No. 1,” Mr. O’Toole said during the campaign. “He’ll say anything to get elected, regardless of the damage it does to our country.”

Mr. Trudeau returned the criticism, saying Mr. O’Toole’s willingness to ditch Conservative policies and alter his platform mid-campaign showed it was he who would say or promise anything to voters.

While many voters eagerly bumped elbows and posed for selfies with Mr. Trudeau at campaign stops, his campaign was often disturbed by unruly mobs protesting mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports. One event was canceled out of safety concerns, and Mr. Trudeau was pelted with gravel at another.

Mr. Trudeau did have a strong political challenger on the left nationally with Jagmeet Singh of the New Democrats. Mr. Singh, a lawyer and former provincial lawmaker from Ontario, consistently had the highest approval ratings of all the leaders before and during the campaign. But personal popularity was not enough: His party gained three seats but won only a total of 27.

As before the election, the New Democrats are likely to be Mr. Trudeau’s primary source of support in Parliament.

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