“I worry a bit because we don’t know much about Omicron,” Susanne Sesterer, 63, a retiree in Hanover, Germany, said on Thursday as she was doing her last shopping before Christmas. “But how much worse can it get?”

Others were giving up.

Dorotea Belli, a 42-year-old Italian who has had two vaccine doses, said she would not go to a family gathering for Christmas and instead stay home in Rome. Many of her colleagues had tested positive for the virus, she said, and her children, 4 and 1, are not eligible for vaccination.

“They and I will miss my parents very much,” she said. “But I don’t want to bring Covid around, and even if my husband and I are vaccinated, who knows?”

Spain’s calculus on new restrictions is not only factoring in the all-important holidays, but also legal barriers that emerged after measures taken by the government in 2020.

In July, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that the government did not have the authority to impose the lockdown measures that began in March 2020, which restricted Spaniards from leaving their homes except for essential trips like food shopping. Instead, the judges said, the measures required a full parliamentary vote, which few see passing with a majority in the future given how controversial the previous restrictions were.

“The government has its hands tied now,” said Luis Galán Soldevilla, a law professor at the University of Córdoba.

Spain’s lighter measures announced on Thursday received criticism from some sectors, like the Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration, a group that includes many health professionals.

“These measures don’t help much,” said Ildefonso Hernández, the group’s spokesman, saying limiting capacity indoors would be more effective. “It makes no sense that people walk the street with a mask and then take it off when they enter a bar.”

In Madrid, residents were charging ahead with their Christmas plans, despite the rising caseload and risks.

Fernando Sánchez, 55, a taxi driver, lost his mother and brother to Covid-19 six months ago. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to cancel his Christmas plans, which this year take place at the home of his in-laws, much as they had before the pandemic.

Antonio Jesús Navarro, 33, a software engineer, had been looking forward to spending Christmas with his girlfriend, who had traveled to Spain for the holidays from the United States. The two had not seen each other since before the pandemic began.

But then Mr. Navarro learned he had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The couple were isolating until he could get his own test results. He said he was frustrated with public messaging on how to stay safe from Omicron.

“Is an antigen test acceptable?” he said by telephone. “What happens if there are no symptoms?”

Hours later, Mr. Navarro called back to say he and his girlfriend had tested positive for Covid-19.

Nicholas Casey and José Bautista reported from Madrid, and Constant Méheut from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder from Geneva; Gaia Pianigiani from Rome; Christopher F. Schuetze from Hanover, Germany; and Léontine Gallois from Paris.

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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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India’s Toxic Air Pollution Prompts Supreme Court to Act

NEW DELHI — A thick blanket of noxious haze has settled over the Indian capital of New Delhi, burning eyes and lungs, forcing schools to close and prompting ardent calls from residents for action.

India’s leaders have responded with what has become an annual tradition: by pointing fingers at one another.

The central government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is accusing city officials of inaction, and vice versa. The country’s Supreme Court has stepped in to shut down factories and order farmers to stop burning fields. But the court’s other efforts, which last year included ordering the installation of a pair of air-scrubbing filter towers, have been derided as ineffectual.

The airborne murk and the towers stand as symbols of India’s deep political dysfunction. The choking pollution has become an annual phenomenon, and the country’s scientists can accurately predict the worst days. But deep partisanship and official intransigence have hindered steps that could help clear the air.

by major wildfires. It criticized officials for what it called their “don’t take any step” position.

India was home to 15 of the 20 cities with the most hazardous air globally, and health experts have detailed how such conditions can lead to brain damage, respiratory problems and early death.

Weaning the country off coal and other dirty fuels will be difficult, a reality underscored by climate negotiations that took place in Glasgow, Scotland, this month. India already struggles to meet its basic power needs. During the Scotland talks, India and China teamed up to insist upon a last-minute amendment to the language of the accord, to “phase down” coal rather than ease it out.

Mr. Modi argues that India’s increasing use of coal and other fossil fuels is helping build an economy that is lifting millions out of poverty. But emissions from burning coal make the pollution problem worse for city dwellers, particularly the poor, who cannot afford air purifier machines or the electricity to run them.

Adesh Gupta, the Delhi president of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said that Delhi’s top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, should resign.

“Instead of making Delhi a world-class city as he claimed, Kejriwal has made it a smog city,” Mr. Gupta said.

clearing their fields with fires.

“Farmers in neighboring states are compelled to burn stubble as their governments are doing nothing for them,” Mr. Kejriwal said.

The Supreme Court stepped in last year, too, ordering the two sides to take steps like enforcing a ban on farm fires and capturing power plant emissions. It also ordered Delhi early last year to build the two experimental smog towers, despite experts’ doubts about their impact. A study last year in the peer-reviewed journal Atmosphere called the approach unscientific.

“Can we vacuum our air pollution problem using smog towers? The short answer is no,” the researchers said.

Still, they are a tempting refuge for people desperate to escape the city’s bad air.

As a coppery sun set behind smoky skies, Jasmer Singh rested under a smog tower in central Delhi as it sucked in polluted air. A monitor measuring the levels of dangerous particulate matter showed that the air it spit out was slightly cleaner, but far from what the World Health Organization considers safe.

Still, Mr. Singh, a volunteer at a nearby Sikh temple, said, “around here, the air is good, lighter and better.”

Some members of both Mr. Modi’s party and the opposition say they want to take a serious, nonpartisan look at the problem.

“The blame game will be always there,” said Vikas Mahatme, a lawmaker with the B.J.P. Summing up the attitudes of many politicians, he said, “Why one should bother about other states? They are not voters to consider.”

Still, getting all sides to work together will be difficult, he acknowledged. “We are not very active,” he said. “I tell you freely.”

More information about clean aire and pure water can be found at AllHealthyInfo.com

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Once a Leading Polluter, the U.K. Is Now Trying to Lead on Climate Change

LONDON — As Britain prepares to host a landmark climate summit in Glasgow this week, the milestones of its own evolution to a more climate-friendly economy are on vivid display along the railroad line from London to Scotland.

Near Gainsborough, a river town 150 miles north of the capital, one of Britain’s last coal-fired power plants still spews carbon dioxide and other gases into the air. Another 150 miles north, off the coast of the seaside port of Blyth, the slender blades of five turbines in an offshore wind farm turn lazily in the breeze.

The two plants, both owned by the French utility giant EDF, illustrate how far Britain has come. The coal station, restarted recently to cover a shortfall in electricity, is slated to be taken out of operation next year, while the company plans to install experimental floating turbines in the waters off Blyth.

“We’re talking about a huge transition,” said Paul Spence, the director of strategy and corporate affairs at EDF, referring to Britain’s goal of being a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. “A lot of things need to happen to keep the lights on.”

climate meeting, known as COP26, it has a credible claim to being a global leader in climate policy. The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Britain became the first country to legally mandate reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions through the Climate Change Act in 2008. Its high-tech windmills and superannuated smokestacks are only the most visible evidence of a three-decade campaign.

Having built the world’s largest offshore wind industry, Britain has reduced emissions by 44 percent from 1990 levels. Its target to cut them by at least 68 percent by 2030 is one of the most ambitious of any major economy, according to the Climate Action Tracker, a scientific analysis of the policies of countries.

If Britain achieves that target, which is far from clear, it would be one of a handful of countries doing enough to fulfill the key goal of the Paris Agreement: limiting the long-term rise in the planet’s temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

showdown with striking coal miners in 1984. By crushing the union and slashing subsidies for the coal industry, Mrs. Thatcher accelerated Britain’s search for alternative energy sources, namely natural gas.

“She got rid of the coal miners for a combination of political and economic reasons,” said Tom Burke, the chairman of E3G, an environmental think tank, and a former government adviser. “But it gave the U.K. a degree of freedom of action that wasn’t available to other countries.”

she said to the United Nations.

Mrs. Thatcher planted the seed for a bipartisan cause, as Conservative and Labour governments sought to burnish their green credentials. British diplomats played key roles in brokering climate deals in Rio de Janeiro and Kyoto, Japan. Britain installed climate attachés in its embassies around the world.

In 2006, a British government adviser, Nicholas Stern, produced a seminal study of the economic effects of climate change, which framed the debate before the 2009 summit in Copenhagen and set the stage for the Climate Act, passed under a Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, they viewed climate policy as a way to appeal to younger voters, many of whom viewed the Tories as a tightfisted party in thrall to business interests. Parliament created a climate change committee, which prodded the government to adopt policies that would help Britain meet its goals. Several of its policies were mimicked by fellow European Union members. “We basically ran the E.U. on climate policy,” Mr. Burke said.

Then came the Brexit vote in 2016, and “we lost our most important tool for influencing other countries, which was the E.U,” he said.

Mr. Johnson, who once scoffed that wind farms would “barely pull the skin off a rice pudding,” now speaks about climate change with the zeal of the converted. Allies say he has been convinced of the need for action by his third wife, Carrie Johnson, who campaigns against plastic pollution.

But critics say Mr. Johnson’s bracing words are belied by his actions. The Climate Action Tracker, while praising Britain’s ambitions, criticized its financial commitment to achieving them, calling it “highly insufficient.”

“It’s accurate to say that this is a betrayal of a national commitment by the current government,” Mr. Burke said.

Mr. Johnson’s pro-Brexit government, he said, depends on support from the libertarian wing of the Tory party, which opposes far-reaching climate initiatives, while his anti-business messaging hinders partnerships with the private sector.

For private companies, the government’s messaging has been muddled. EDF said it would like to build more onshore wind farms, but local resistance and lack of incentives has made it less attractive. And the government has struggled to line up financing for a new generation of nuclear plants.

“We’re only a quarter of the way toward the decarbonized energy system that the prime minister set as a goal for 2035,” said Mr. Spence, of EDF. “We need all the answers, faster than we’ve ever done them before, if we’re going to get anywhere close to a 1.5-degree world.”

For all of Britain’s agenda-setting, there is also a sense among activists and experts that there is only so much a midsize country can do to solve a planetary problem. Its total emissions account for barely 1 percent of the world’s total. China accounts for nearly 30 percent, and the United States for 14 percent.

“Imagine if these policies had been picked up in 1997 by the United States,” said David King, a former climate envoy and scientific adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair. “The world would be a very different place.”

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Biden Finds Raising Corporate Tax Rates Easier Abroad Than at Home

ROME — President Biden and other world leaders endorsed a landmark global agreement on Saturday that seeks to block large corporations from shifting profits and jobs across borders to avoid taxes, a showcase win for a president who has found raising corporate tax rates an easier sell with other countries than with his own party in Congress.

The announcement in the opening session of the Group of 20 summit marked the world’s most aggressive attempt yet to stop opportunistic companies like Apple and Bristol Myers Squibb from sheltering profits in so-called tax havens, where tax rates are low and corporations often maintain little physical presence beyond an official headquarters.

It is a deal years in the making, which was pushed over the line by the sustained efforts of Mr. Biden’s Treasury Department, even as the president’s plans to raise taxes in the United States for new social policy and climate change programs have fallen short of his promises.

The revenue expected from the international pact is now critical to Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, an unexpected outcome for a president who has presented himself more as a deal maker at home rather than abroad.

end the global practice of profit-shifting, celebrated the international tax provisions this week and said they would be significant steps toward Mr. Biden’s vision of a global economy where companies invest, hire and book more profits in the United States.

But they also conceded that infighting among congressional Democrats had left Mr. Biden short of fulfilling his promise to make corporations pay their “fair share,” disappointing those who have pushed Mr. Biden to reverse lucrative tax cuts for businesses passed under Mr. Trump.

The framework omits a wide range of corporate tax increases that Mr. Biden campaigned on and pushed relentlessly in the first months of his presidency. He could not persuade 50 Senate Democrats to raise the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, or even to a compromise 25 percent, or to eliminate incentives that allow some large firms — like fossil fuel producers — to reduce their tax bills.

“It’s a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, step,” Erica Payne, the president of a group called Patriotic Millionaires that has urged tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, said in a statement after Mr. Biden’s framework announcement on Friday. “But it’s a step.”

The Treasury Department said on Friday that even the additional enforcement money for the I.R.S. could still generate $400 billion in additional tax revenue over 10 years and said that was a “conservative” estimate.

An administration official said that the difficulty in rolling back the Trump tax cuts was the result of the fact that the Democrats are a big tent party ideologically with a very narrow majority in Congress, where a handful of moderates currently rule.

In Rome, Mr. Biden’s struggle to raise taxes more has not complicated the sealing of the international agreement. The move by the heads of state to commit to putting the deal in place by 2023 looms as the featured achievement of the summit, and Mr. Biden’s surest victory of a European swing that also includes a climate conference in Scotland next week.

Briefing reporters on Friday evening, a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to preview the first day of the summit, said Biden aides were confident that world leaders were sophisticated and understood the nuances of American politics, including the challenges in passing Mr. Biden’s tax plans in Congress.

The official also said world leaders see the tax deal as reshaping the rules of the global economy.

The international tax agreement represented a significant achievement of economic diplomacy for Mr. Biden and Ms. Yellen, who dedicated much of her first year on the job to reviving negotiations that stalled during the Trump administration. To show that the United States was serious about a deal, she abandoned a provision that would have made it optional for American companies to pay new taxes to foreign countries and backed away from an initial demand for a global minimum tax of 21 percent.

For months, Ms. Yellen cajoled Ireland’s finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, to back the agreement, which would require Ireland to raise its 12.5 percent corporate tax rate — the centerpiece of its economic model to attract foreign investment. Ultimately, through a mix of pressure and pep talks, Ireland relented, removing a final obstacle that could have prevented the European Union from ratifying the agreement.

Some progressives in the United States say that Mr. Biden’s ability to follow through on his end of the bargain was a crucial piece of the framework spending bill.

“The international corporate reforms are the most important,” said Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, who specializes in tax policy, “because they are linked to the broader multilateral effort to stop the corporate race to the bottom. It’s so important for Congress to act this year to give that effort momentum.”

Jim Tankersley reported from Rome, and Alan Rappeport from Washington.

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Beavers Re-emerge in Scotland, Drawing Ire of Farmers

Building dams that flood land, the beavers have infuriated farmers. Some have obtained permits to kill the animals — setting off outrage among conservationists.


EDINBURGH — Wrapped inside a brown hessian sack, the baby beaver wriggled as it was carried to an examination table, but gave up the fight as a veterinarian deftly punched a microchip into its thick pelt and removed clumps of brown fur for samples.

“It’s stressful for the animal,” said Romain Pizzi, a wildlife specialist, as he extracted blood from the scaly flat tail of the male kit captured just a few hours earlier. Nonetheless, he added, this was a lucky young beaver.

“The alternative,” he said, “is that it’s going to be shot.”

animals legally.

But the sanctioned killing of an otherwise protected species has enraged conservationists, prompting a legal challenge and igniting a polarizing debate about farming, biodiversity and the future of Scotland’s countryside.

Although there was an official trial reintroduction of beavers in 2009 in the west of Scotland, the animal’s return is primarily a result of earlier escapes or unauthorized releases of beavers imported privately, mainly from Bavaria or Norway. The growing population is most evident in the streams of Tayside, north of Edinburgh.

The five-month-old kit in the examining room, weighing in around nine pounds, had been caught in a trap in Tayside and rescued from what is called a “conflict area” — where, because of the damage the animals cause, farmers have won licenses to kill them. In 2020, they killed 115 of the animals, about 10 percent of a beaver population that now stands at roughly 1,000 across Scotland.

the new Scottish government’s draft policy program.

In Scotland, beaver territories, which vary in size but typically feature around four animals, have increased steadily — from 39 in 2012 to 251 in 2020-21, according to an official report. In 2019, beavers were given protected status, albeit with farmers able to apply for licenses to cull.

Now, a rewilding charity, Trees for Life, has challenged the Scottish government’s nature agency, NatureScot, in court claiming that it issues licenses too readily.

Bamff estate in Perthshire, where Paul and Louise Ramsay run an eco-tourism operation. The Ramsays brought Scotland’s first recent-era beavers to the site in 2002, when there were fewer restrictions, as part of their own beaver rewilding project.

The idea was to restore natural habitats on their land after centuries of drainage designed to maximize farm yields. A significant transformation can be seen in a wild, scenic stretch of the 1,300-acre estate, which has been in the family since 1232.

Tall trees felled by beavers have crashed into pools of water separated by dams. Along the bank of a small river stood birch trees that were almost gnawed through; a few meters away a beaver could be seen swimming with a large clump of foliage in its mouth.

regulate the water level of their aquatic habitats.

The 20 or so beavers living here have killed many trees, a point of contention for the Ramsays’ critics. But they have attracted otters, allowed water pools to fill with trout, frogs and toads, and given a nesting place in dead trees to woodpeckers, Ms. Ramsay said.

She said the problem was not the beavers, but farmers who think that any land that does not produce a crop is wasted.

“Their motivation is to drain, drain, drain, so a beaver comes along and wants to make a wet bit here or there — which might be a brilliant habitat — that’s against the farmer’s interest,” she said.

Some beavers did escape from Bamff, Ms. Ramsay acknowledged. She claimed that by the time that happened, though, others had already escaped from a wildlife park some distance away.

The Ramsays took over management of the estate in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, Mr. Ramsay said, he became excited by the idea of introducing beavers at a time when he says the farming and fishing lobby had blocked an official trial project. He denies suggestions from critics that he deliberately let beavers escape to speed things up.

At his farm not far away in Meigle, Adrian Ivory was unconvinced. “Those animals have now escaped for whatever reason,” he said, “and the financial burden is not on the person who caused the problem but on us where the issue now is. They’re now being hailed as heroes for getting beavers back in and there is no thought about what damage it’s doing to our livelihoods.”

Beaver dams in a stream on his land must be removed regularly, Mr. Ivory said, because they threaten the drainage system in a nearby field and caused one year’s crop to rot. Burrowing threatens the stability of banks, making it potentially dangerous to use tractors.

Mr. Ivory said the damage may have cost him £50,000, including wrecked crops and labor costs. “If you rewild everywhere, where’s your next meal coming from?” he asked. “Food becomes a lot more expensive, or you have to import it.”

Mr. Ivory declined to discuss whether he had culled the beaver population on his land, but said he allowed the animals to be trapped for relocation, a task undertaken in Tayside by Roisin Campbell-Palmer, the restoration manager at the Beaver Trust charity.

She works with farmers, rising early in the morning to check traps, then relocating animals to beaver projects in England, where more than 50 have been sent. (Scotland does not allow the animals to be relocated within the country.)

Ms. Campbell-Palmer said she found beavers fascinating and admired their dam-building skills, tenacity and single-mindedness. That said, she understands the complaints of farmers and admits that, having seen some particularly destructive tree-felling, has occasionally said to herself, “‘Of all the trees to cut down, why did you do that one?’”

As she inspected a trap filled with carrots, turnips and apples, Ms. Campbell-Palmer reflected on the ferocious debate and concluded that beavers had undeniably achieved one thing in Scotland.

“I think what they are doing,” she said, “is making us ask wider questions about how we are using the landscape.”

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New Variant Posing Threat, as Global Vaccine Drive Falters

LONDON — A new and potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus has begun to outpace other versions of the virus in Britain, putting pressure on the government to shorten people’s wait for second doses of vaccines and illustrating the risks of a faltering global immunization drive.

The new variant, which has become dominant in India since first being detected there in December, may be responsible in part for a grievous wave of infections across Southeast Asia, including Nepal, where people have been dying in hospital corridors and courtyards. But efforts to understand the variant picked up once it began spreading in Britain, one of at least 49 countries where it is present. Scientists there are sequencing half of all coronavirus cases amid a push to complete the reopening of its economy.

The preliminary results out of Britain, drawn from only a few thousand cases of the variant, contained both good and bad news, scientists said.

The variant, known by evolutionary biologists as B.1.617.2, is “highly likely” to be more transmissible than the variant behind Britain’s devastating wintertime surge, government scientists have said. That earlier variant, known as B.1.1.7, was itself considerably more contagious than the one that first emerged last year in Wuhan, China.

Public Health England report published this weekend provided signs that government scientists said were consistent with a more transmissible virus: The variant first seen in India was roughly 50 percent more likely than B.1.1.7 to be transmitted to the close contacts of an infected person. Government scientists said last week that it could be anywhere from a few percentage points to 50 percent more contagious than B.1.1.7.

Helpfully for Britain and other wealthy nations, the latest worrisome variant has emerged at a less dire moment of the pandemic. More than four out of every five people in England above the age of 65 — among the groups most vulnerable to the virus — have been given both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, driving down hospitalizations and deaths.

And a new study by Public Health England offered reassuring signs that fully vaccinated people were about as well protected from the variant first detected in India as they were from other forms of the coronavirus.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offered 88 percent protection against the variant first sampled in India, only a slight drop from the 93 percent protection given against the variant from Britain, Public Health England said. The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was 60 percent effective against the variant from India, compared to 66 percent effective against the one first seen in Britain.

Other studies in England have shown little to no difference between the effectiveness of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

wrote on Twitter.

In Britain, part of its rapid growth may have to do with the particular places it was first introduced. Bolton, in northwest England, where the new variant is most advanced, is a highly deprived area with tightly packed housing that could be hastening its spread, scientists said.

“We do not know if the increase in transmissibility is the result of specific mixing patterns, or super-spreading events,” a group of researchers led by Robert Challen of the University of Exeter reported on May 11, in a study that was among those presented to an influential government advisory group.

That government advisory body said several days later that it had “high confidence” that the variant first seen in India was indeed more contagious, warning that a “substantial resurgence of hospitalizations” was possible. It said that the variant was gaining a foothold in diverse parts of Britain where “contact patterns or behaviors” alone could not explain its spread.

It is not clear if the variant from India is any deadlier than B.1.1.7.

With cases of B.1.1.7 falling, the variant first seen in India now accounts for roughly half of the sequenced coronavirus cases being monitored by Public Health England. The agency’s scientists have said it was likely to replace B.1.1.7 as England’s dominant virus within a month, a startling turnabout so soon after B.1.1.7 swept much of the world.

“For countries that are starting to struggle with B.1.1.7, they now know they have an even faster one close by,” said Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

experimenting with ways to encourage sick people to isolate.

Some scientists have urged the government to go further by dramatically closing the gap between doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, for instance, and rerouting those shots to cities hardest hit by the variant from India. Because the AstraZeneca vaccine appears most protective with a 12-week dosing interval, those scientists said, using it meant leaving people only partially vaccinated for a period of time.

At the very least, Professor Sridhar said, people needed to be reminded to remain cautious until they were fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to scrap almost all remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21 rests in large part, scientists said, on how many second doses Britain can administer in the coming weeks.

For many poorer nations, starved for vaccines, there is little choice but to leave long delays between first and second doses. Some of them are uncertain about when shipments of second doses will arrive. Large portions of those countries remain entirely unprotected.

If the variant from India spreads as quickly in other countries as it has in Britain, the burden on unvaccinated nations may grow.

“It’s a warning,” Professor Sridhar said. “What we’re seeing in India is being repeated in Nepal, it’s being repeated in other countries. You need to get ahead of it.”

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Thieves Steal Artifacts Worth $1.4 Million From English Castle

LONDON — The thieves broke into an imposing castle in the English countryside and took a rare bounty: rosary beads that once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, along with other gold and silver artifacts that the authorities said were worth over $1.4 million.

The theft came just days after historical sites in England were allowed to reopen after months of lockdown, and the police are asking visitors who might have witnessed suspicious behavior before the crime last Friday at Arundel Castle, about 60 miles southwest of London, to come forward.

Apart from their material value, the items stolen had “immeasurably greater and priceless historical importance,” a spokesman for the castle’s trustees said in a statement. “We therefore urge anyone with information to come forward to the police to assist them in returning these treasures back where they belong.”

The castle and its grounds, a near thousand-year-old site that is the principal home of the Duke of Norfolk, had only reopened to visitors on Tuesday. The police said in a briefing on Sunday that the thieves had taken the items from a display cabinet along a route taken by visitors, and were investigating whether an abandoned car on fire found in a nearby village shortly after the burglary was related to the crime. Other items stolen included several coronation cups and other gold and silver treasures.

on Twitter, adding that the men around the Catholic royal had tried to force her conversion to Protestantism before her death and refused to allow a chaplain to pray with her. Many of her belongings were lost or burned to stop them from becoming relics, making the beads even more important, she said.

The heist was “definitely targeted,” said James Ratcliffe, director of recoveries at The Art Loss Register, a database of stolen art, adding that it was unlikely to be an accident that it had coincided with the castle’s recent reopening, and that the culprits could have carried out a reconnaissance or even stayed hidden in the castle after it closed on Friday.

Thieves have targeted other treasures from public exhibitions at stately homes in England in recent years. In 2019, a fully functioning 18-karat gold toilet — not an aristocratic indulgence but an artwork by Maurizio Cattelan — was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the vast stately home near Oxford where Winston Churchill was born. It has yet to be recovered. And in a similar crime, thieves broke into Sudeley Castle in southwest England, smashed a display case and made away with jewelry and artifacts.

Even with their material worth, such recognizable items would be difficult to sell, Mr. Ratcliffe said, and buyers would be wary of the potential for prosecution if they were caught. Intact, they could fetch as little as 50,000 pounds (about $71,000). But if the artifacts were melted down to their base materials — the “worst case scenario,” he said — they would lose their cultural value and be worth even less.

He was keeping his fingers crossed, he added, that the thieves would “see reason” and return the items anonymously to avoid getting caught. “There’s an awful lot of risk for very little reward,” he said.

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‘I Was Surrounded by Death’: Gaza Father Is Rescued, Emerging to Grief

GAZA CITY — Riad Ishkontana had promised his children that their building on Al Wahida Street was safe, though for Zein, his 2-year-old son, the thunder of the airstrikes spoke louder than his reassurances.

The Israelis had never bombed the neighborhood before, he told them. Theirs was a comfortable, tranquil area by Gaza City standards, full of professionals and shops, nothing military. The explosions were still far away. To soothe them all, he started calling home “the house of safety.”

Mr. Ishkontana, 42, tried to believe it, too, though around them the death toll was climbing — not by inches, but by leaps, by housefuls, by families.

He was still telling the children about their house of safety all the way up until after midnight early Sunday morning, when he and his wife were watching more plumes of gray smoke rising from Gaza on TV. She went to put the five children to bed. For all his attempts at comforting them, the family felt more secure sleeping all together in the boys’ room in the middle of the third-floor apartment.

killed 227 Palestinians in Gaza, striking at Hamas militants who were firing rockets at Israel from the coastal strip, but in the process further compounding the agony of what, for Gaza’s two million residents, is already a kind of crumbling open-air prison. Its electricity, water, sanitation and health care systems, rarely stable before the airstrikes, are now in shambles. With its borders shut by Israel and Egypt, there is nowhere for its people to flee.

a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” the White House principal deputy press secretary said. European governments were also pushing for an immediate cease-fire, while international parties, including Egypt, attempted to mediate.

Hamas rockets have also kept killing people in Israel — 13 in all since the start on May 10. Among the dead were three foreign workers, who make up most of Israel’s agricultural work force but have long endured squalid living conditions there. After two Thai employees of a packaging plant near the Gaza border were killed on Tuesday, a local official told The Times of Israel newspaper that the agricultural community where they worked did not have an adequate shelter against rockets.

Israel says its American-funded Iron Dome defense system has intercepted about 90 percent of the rockets.

In Gaza, there is neither Iron Dome nor dedicated shelter, only the strip’s United Nations-run schools, whose classrooms are overflowing with 47,000 evacuees. The United Nations said another 29,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and shelter with other families, for a total of about 75,000 people displaced in Gaza by the Israeli military campaign.

In the jagged blackness where he was buried under what had been his apartment, Mr. Ishkontana said, he could hear Zein, his 2-year-old, moving around and crying, “Baba! Baba!” Dana, 8, was also calling to her father for help, her voice trembling.

Mr. Ishkontana was pinned in place. The walls, pillar and roof had fallen on his chest, back, hand and right leg, breaking two ribs and slicing off a finger. He tried shouting for help, but he barely had the strength.

“I was surrounded by death and the end of life,” he said. “I felt like my life was over. I was waiting for death at any moment.”

After a few minutes, Zein went quiet. So did Dana.

Six hours passed.

Then there was a noise, Mr. Ishkontana recalled. A whir of machinery, faint but unmistakable. A bulldozer?

“Who’s alive?” he heard a man calling. “Is anyone alive?”

Hope crashed over him, carrying with it the thought: I’m going to live.

“Oh God!” he started shouting, alternating prayers with calls to the rescuers. One of them told him to keep breathing while they dug down toward him through the debris, gray but for the occasional splotch of floral couch or purple dishrag or bag of bread.

The rescuer asked Mr. Ishkontana if there were any signs of life around him.

No, he said.

When Mr. Ishkontana saw a small hole open up above him, he stuck two fingers through it to let them know they had found him. Up above, people were chanting, “God is great! God is great!” He raised the two fingers in a weak victory sign.

His feelings, he said in an interview on Wednesday at a relative’s house, where visitors had come to offer condolences after he was discharged from a hospital, were a jumble: “power, mercy, strength, survival.”

“A new life appeared on the horizon when they moved the rubble,” said Mr. Ishkontana, who, after losing his job as a waiter at a Thai restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic, had turned to odd jobs. “Even though I was thinking at the same time that because I lost my family, my whole life was gone.”

At Shifa Hospital several hours later, someone gave him the news: One of his daughters, 7-year-old Suzy, had been found alive under the rubble a few hours after him, only lightly wounded in the face. In joy, then terror, he asked about the rest of his family: his wife, Abeer, 28; and Dana, 8; Lana, 6; Yahya, 5; and baby Zein.

The man said rescuers were still hoping to save them from the rubble.

But he knew that the man was trying to cushion the blow, Mr. Ishkontana said. He knew they were all gone.

Iyad Abuheweila reported from Gaza City, and Vivian Yee from Cairo. Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel, and Elian Peltier from Inverie, Scotland.

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