staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.

In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.

“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”

The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.

Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.

unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.

Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.

Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.

The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.

Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.

ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.

military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.

“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.

accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.

fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.

The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.

only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.

If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.

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What Davos Looks Like When the World Economic Forum Is Cancel

For the second year in a row, the World Economic Forum scrapped its annual meeting in the Alpine resort town of Davos, Switzerland, because of the pandemic.

The gathering is an essential stop on the annual circuit for the global elite, a weeklong schmoozefest where billionaires and autocrats mingle over canapés while activists protest in the frigid mountain air. Companies make climate pledges. Economists discuss inequality. Everyone walks on the same slippery, slushy roads.

the patrician founder of the World Economic Forum, said in a statement on Thursday.

So far, however, there is little sign that the pandemic is beginning to wane. And for a second year in a row, with Davos the event on hold, the town of Davos, Switzerland, is stuck in limbo.

a study by University of St. Gallen that was commissioned by the forum. The bulk of that, roughly $70 million, was spent in Davos, which has a year-round population of about 11,000 people. That number essentially doubles when the forum comes to town.

Hotels, and in particular the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère, will feel the pain particularly acutely. During the annual meeting, the Belvédère has its own center of gravity, erecting temporary structures to accommodate additional meeting rooms, allowing television networks to set up on its roof and hosting a constant string of receptions in its various bars.

Normally, it is all but impossible to get a room there during the third week of January, with rooms ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, if they are available. Now, during what is usually its busiest time of the year, rooms at the Belvédère are available for less than $300 a night on Expedia.com.

“Davos Man” has come to describe individuals so wealthy and powerful that they play by their own set of rules, and write the rules for the rest of us. The annual meeting has come to define the place more than the mountains, the ski slopes or the mulled wine served in chalet taverns. Even onetime critics of the World Economic Forum have come around and now embrace its singular place in Davos.

“In my early days, I was demonstrating during the W.E.F. for better action against climate change and social justice,” Philipp Wilhelm, the mayor of Davos, told the Guardian after last year’s event was canceled. “Now, I am trying to get the W.E.F. back to Davos.”

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Roche says at-home COVID-19 rapid test gets ok from FDA

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A box of material for rapid COVID-19 antigenic tests made by Swiss drugmaker Roche is pictured at the University Hospital (CHUV) during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Lausanne, Switzerland, November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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Dec 24 (Reuters) – Roche said on Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to its COVID-19 at-home rapid test that can be used by people as young as 14.

The test, which uses a anterior nasal swab sample, is “able to produce accurate, reliable and quick results in as few as 20 minutes” for SARS-CoV-2 and all variants of concern, including Omicron, the drugmaker said in a statement.

The variant has become dominant in the United States with lightning speed, dashing hopes for a more normal holiday season, resurrecting restrictions and stretching the country’s testing infrastructure ahead of holiday travel and gatherings. read more

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“Roche has the capacity to produce tens of millions of tests per month to help support the pandemic response,” the Swiss firm said, adding that the test will be available across the U.S. from January.

The test’s approval comes at a time when companies such as Walmart Inc (WMT.N), Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA.O) and CVS Health Corp (CVS.N) have limited sales of at-home COVID-19 testing kits as demand surged owing to the swift spread of the variant of the coronavirus.

U.S. President Joe Biden recently unveiled plans to buy 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests to be distributed for free to Americans who request them starting in January. read more

The test can also be used by for children aged 2-13 years under adult supervision, according to the company. “The launch will be in partnership with SD Biosensor Inc (137310.KS), with whom Roche has a global distribution agreement.”

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Reporting by Vishal Vivek in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Europeans Ponder Living With, Not Defeating, Covid

MADRID — Covid-19 infections were rising all across Spain, but the message from the country’s leader was clear: The government was not entering 2022 with the restrictions of 2020.

“The situation is different this time, and because of that, we’re taking different measures,” Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, said this week, adding that he understood his people had grown impatient with the pandemic and that he was “fully aware of the fatigue.”

Across Europe, that fatigue is as palpable as the dampened Christmas spirit. The fatigue of another named variant of the coronavirus and another wave of infections. The fatigue of another grim year watching New Year’s Eve gatherings get canceled or curtailed, one by one.

But along with the exhaustion, another feeling is taking root: that the coronavirus will not be eradicated with vaccines or lockdowns, but has become something endemic that people must learn to live with, maybe for years to come.

reducing the risk of severe disease and hospitalization, according to recent studies.

Pfizer and Merck. The new drugs, which can be taken at home with a doctor’s prescription, will be available to some Covid patients who are at higher risk of becoming severely ill.

“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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The Nobel Peace Prize That Paved the Way for War in Ethiopia

NAIROBI, Kenya — Secret meetings with a dictator. Clandestine troop movements. Months of quiet preparation for a war that was supposed to be swift and bloodless.

New evidence shows that Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had been planning a military campaign in the northern Tigray region for months before war erupted one year ago, setting off a cascade of destruction and ethnic violence that has engulfed Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.

Mr. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate seen recently in fatigues commanding troops on the battlefront, insists that war was foisted upon him — that ethnic Tigrayan fighters fired the first shots in November 2020 when they attacked a federal military base in Tigray, slaughtering soldiers in their beds. That account has become an article of faith for Mr. Abiy and his supporters.

In fact, it was a war of choice for Mr. Abiy — one with wheels set in motion even before the Nobel Peace Prize win in 2019 that turned him, for a time, into a global icon of nonviolence.

Tigrayans routed the Ethiopian troops and their Eritrean allies over the summer and last month came within 160 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa — prompting Mr. Abiy to declare a state of emergency.

Recently, the pendulum has swung back, with government forces retaking two strategic towns that had been captured by the Tigrayans — the latest twist in a conflict that has already cost tens of thousands of lives and pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.

Analysts say that Mr. Abiy’s journey from peacemaker to battlefield commander is a cautionary tale of how the West, desperate to find a new hero in Africa, got this leader spectacularly wrong.

“The West needs to make up for its mistakes in Ethiopia,” said Alex Rondos, formerly the European Union’s top diplomat in the Horn of Africa. “It misjudged Abiy. It empowered Isaias. Now the issue is whether a country of 110 million people can be prevented from unraveling.”

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2019, Mr. Abiy, a former soldier, drew on his own experience to eloquently capture the horror of conflict.

his first months in power, Mr. Abiy, then 41, freed political prisoners, unshackled the press and promised free elections in Ethiopia. His peace deal with Eritrea, a pariah state, was a political moonshot for the strife-torn Horn of Africa region.

Even so, the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee knew it was taking on a chance on Mr. Abiy, said Henrik Urdal of Peace Research Institute Oslo, which analyzes the committee’s decisions.

announced to applause that he was nominating Mr. Abiy for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Back in Sweden, Dr. Kontie persuaded Anders Österberg, a parliamentarian from a low-income Stockholm district with a large immigrant population, to join his cause. Mr. Österberg traveled to Ethiopia, met with Mr. Abiy and was impressed.

at least two nominations for Mr. Abiy that year.

In selecting Mr. Abiy, the Nobel Committee hoped to encourage him further down the path of democratic reforms, Mr. Urdal said.

Even then, though, there were signs that Mr. Abiy’s peace deal wasn’t all it seemed.

reopened borders, were rolled back or reversed in a matter of months. Promised trade pacts failed to materialize, and there was little concrete cooperation, the Ethiopian officials said.

Eritrea’s spies, however, gained an edge. Ethiopian intelligence detected an influx of Eritrean agents, some posing as refugees, who gathered information about Ethiopia’s military capabilities, a senior Ethiopian security official said.

The Eritreans were particularly interested in Tigray, he said.

Mr. Isaias had a long and bitter grudge against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which dominated Ethiopia for nearly three decades until Mr. Abiy came to power in 2018. He blamed Tigrayan leaders for the fierce border war of 1998 to 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, in which as many as 100,000 people were killed. He also blamed them for Eritrea’s painful international isolation, including United Nations sanctions.

For Mr. Abiy, it was more complicated.

He served in the T.P.L.F.-dominated governing coalition for eight years and was made a minister in 2015. But as an ethnic Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, he never felt fully accepted by Tigrayans and suffered numerous humiliations, former officials and friends said.

visited the ancient Amhara city of Gondar in November 2018, chanting, “Isaias, Isaias, Isaias!”

Later, a troupe of Eritrean singers and dancers visited Amhara. But the delegation included Eritrea’s spy chief, Abraha Kassa, who used the trip to meet with Amhara security leaders, the senior Ethiopian official said. Eritrea later agreed to train 60,000 troops from the Amhara Special Forces, a paramilitary unit that later deployed to Tigray.

advocated an effective merger of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti — a suggestion that dismayed Ethiopian officials who saw it as straight from the playbook of Mr. Isaias.

Aides also saw the remarks as further proof of Mr. Abiy’s impulsive tendencies, leading them to cancel his news conference during the Nobel ceremonies in Oslo 10 months later.

Mr. Abiy viewed the Tigrayans as a threat to his authority — perhaps even his life — from his first days in power.

The Tigrayans had preferred another candidate as prime minister, and Mr. Abiy told friends he feared Tigrayan security officials were trying to assassinate him, an acquaintance said.

At the prime minister’s residence, soldiers were ordered to stand guard on every floor. Mr. Abiy purged ethnic Tigrayans from his security detail and created the Republican Guard, a handpicked unit under his direct control, whose troops were sent for training to the United Arab Emirates — a powerful new ally also close to Mr. Isaias, a former Ethiopian official said.

The unexplained killing of the Ethiopian military chief, Gen. Seare Mekonnen, an ethnic Tigrayan who was shot dead by a bodyguard in June 2019, heightened tensions.

violent clashes between police officers and protesters erupted across the Oromia region, culminating in the death in June 2020 of a popular singer.

publicly appealed to both sides to halt “provocative military deployments.” The next evening, Tigrayan forces attacked an Ethiopian military base, calling it a pre-emptive strike.

Eritrean soldiers flooded into Tigray from the north. Amhara Special Forces arrived from the south. Mr. Abiy fired General Adem and announced a “law enforcement operation” in Tigray.

Ethiopia’s ruinous civil war was underway.

A New York Times reporter contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.

hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.

While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.

After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.

Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.

Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”

Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.

A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.

Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.

“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”

sewn into the linings of clothes.

In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.

According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.

The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.

Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.

The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.

The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.

GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.

Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.

Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.

In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.

Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.

“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.

There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.

A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.

Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”

While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.

“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.

Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.

Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.

“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.

The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.

The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.

And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.

Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.

“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

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How Omicron Could Knock Economic Recovery Off Track

LONDON — This week, Marisha Wallace finally had to admit that her planned five-day ski holiday in Switzerland in mid-December was not salvageable: The Swiss government’s sudden decision to impose a 10-day quarantine on some international travelers meant she wouldn’t be able to leave her hotel or return home to London on her scheduled flight.

“It’s the way of the world right now,” said Ms. Wallace, an actress and a singer. “You can’t plan anymore.”

That provisional state, amplified across the world, has left the still-fragile economy in a state of suspense as spiking coronavirus infections and the new variant Omicron have popped up around the globe.

“There’s no way to know how bad it will get,” said Ángel Talavera, head of European economics at Oxford Economics.

report released Wednesday from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed, although growth has been uneven, the world economy this year bounced back more quickly and strongly than had been anticipated. The report, compiled largely before the latest coronavirus news, nevertheless warned that growth was projected to slow: in the eurozone, to 4.3 percent next year from 5.2 percent in 2021; and in the United States, to 3.7 percent in 2022 from 5.6 percent.

The organization characterized its outlook as “cautiously optimistic.” But it reiterated how much economic fortunes are inextricably tied to the coronavirus: “The economic policy priority is to get people vaccinated,” the report concluded.

a fourth wave of infections transformed Europe into a Covid hot spot and prompted new restrictions like lockdowns in the Netherlands and Austria.

During earlier outbreaks, trillions in government assistance helped quickly resuscitate the struggling U.S. and European economies. It also brought some unexpected side effects. Combined with pent-up demand, that support helped produce a shortage of labor and materials and rising inflation.

Given how much debt was racked up in the past 18 months, such aid is unlikely to recur even with a sharp downturn — and neither are wholesale closures. Vaccines provide some protection, and many people say they are unwilling to go back into hibernation.

People and business alike have shifted into a wait-and-see mode. “A lot of things do seem like they are on hold, like labor market or overall consumption decisions,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for the job site Indeed.

How that will affect unemployment levels and inflation rates is unclear. Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, indicated on Tuesday that concern about stubborn inflation was growing. The O.E.C.D. also warned that inflation could be higher and last longer than originally anticipated.

Omicron’s appearance just adds to the uncertainty, Laurence Boone, the organization’s chief economist, said in an interview.

governments have reacted with a confusing hodgepodge of stern warnings, travel bans, mask mandates and testing rules that further cloud the economic outlook. That patchwork response combined with people’s varying tolerance for risk means that, at least in the short term, the virus’s latest swerves will have a vastly different effect depending on where you are and what you do.

In France, Luna Park, an annual one-month amusement fair held in the southern city of Nice and slated to open this weekend, was called off after the government suddenly requisitioned the massive warehouse where roller coasters, shooting galleries and merry-go-rounds were being set up in order to convert the space to an emergency vaccination center.

“Today I find myself trying to save my company, and I’m not sure that I can,” said Serge Paillon, park’s owner. He feared he would face huge losses, including 500,000 euros (about $566,000) he had already invested in the event, as well as refunds for tickets that had been on sale for several months

Mr. Paillon furloughed 20 employees. Another 200 festival workers who were coming from around the country to manage the 60 games and rides were told to stay home.

“For a year and a half, it was already a disaster,” Mr. Paillon said. “And now it’s starting again.”

Israel’s decision on Saturday to shut its borders to all foreign tourists for two weeks is likely to reduce the number of tourists in Israel and the occupied territories this December by up to 40,000, or nearly 60 percent of what was expected, according to a government estimate.

Wiatt F. Bowers, an urban planner, had planned to leave Jacksonville, Fla., for Tel Aviv on Wednesday but had to cancel — the fifth time in 18 months that he had to scrap a planned trip to Israel. He will rebook, but doesn’t know when.

Foreign tourism, which brought a record 4.55 million tourists to Israel in 2019, had already nearly vanished. Between March 2020 and September 2021, nonresident foreigners were barred from entering Israel — and, by extension, the occupied territories, where entry and exit are controlled by Israel.

In Bethlehem, where tourism is the main industry, income consequently fell more than 50 percent, said the mayor, Anton Salman, in a phone interview.

Elias al-Arja, the chief of the Arab Hotel Association, which represents about 100 Palestinian hotels in the occupied territories, said he was concerned less about the short-term effect of the sudden travel ban than about the long-term message of unpredictability it sent to potential visitors.

“The disaster isn’t the groups who canceled over the next two weeks,” Mr. al-Arja said. “How can I convince people to come to the Holy Land after we promised them that you can come, but then the government closes the border?”

Reluctance to travel, though, could mean an upswing in other sectors if the new variant is not as harmful as people fear. Jessica Moulton, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in London, said previous spending patterns during the pandemic showed that some money people would otherwise use for travel would instead be spent on dining.

She estimated that the roughly $40 billion that British consumers saved on travel last summer was used for shopping and eating out.

At the moment, Ms. Moulton said, “to the extent that Omicron decreases travel, which will happen as we head into Christmas, that will benefit restaurants.”

In Switzerland, where travelers from Britain and 22 other countries must now quarantine, the effect of the policy change on hotels was immediate.

“The majority of travelers from England — between 80 to 90 percent — have already canceled,” said Andreas Züllig, head of HotellerieSuisse, the Swiss hotel association.

Ms. Wallace, who canceled her trip to the Cambrian Hotel in Adelboden, was one of several people who changed their reservations at the hotel after the Swiss government made its announcement on Friday, just one week before the slopes open.

“This obviously has an impact on our very important winter and Christmas business,” said Anke Lock, the Cambrian’s manager, who estimated that 20 percent of the hotel’s December bookings were at risk.

For now, though, most guests are watching and waiting, Ms. Lock said: “We’ve changed the bookings from guaranteed to tentative.”

Extreme uncertainty about the economy may turn out to be the only certainty.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem, Melissa Eddy from Berlin and Léontine Gallois from Paris.

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World

GENEVA, Nov 26 (Reuters) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the new B.1.1.529 variant of COVID-19, saying they should take a “risk-based and scientific approach”.

“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures.”

A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Orgnaization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The WHO, which has convened an experts’ meeting on Friday to evaluate whether it constitutes a variant of interest or a variant of concern, will share further guidance for governments on action they can take, he said.

It will take a few weeks to understand the variant’s impact, and researchers are working to determine how transmissible it is and how it will affect therapeutics and vaccines, he added.

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay;
Editing by Alison Williams

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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For France, American Vines Still Mean Sour Grapes

BEAUMONT, France — The vines were once demonized for causing madness and blindness, and had been banned decades ago. The French authorities, brandishing money and sanctions, nearly wiped them out.

But there they were. On a hillside off a winding mountain road in a lost corner of southern France, the forbidden crop was thriving. Early one recent evening, Hervé Garnier inspected his field with relief.

In a year when an April frost and disease have decimated France’s overall wine production, Mr. Garnier’s grapes — an American hybrid variety named jacquez, banned by the French government since 1934 — were already turning red. Barring an early-autumn cold snap, all was on track for a new vintage.

“There’s really no reason for its prohibition,” Mr. Garnier said. “Prohibited? I’d like to understand why, especially when you see the prohibition rests on nothing.”

Forgotten Fruits, a group fighting for the legalization of the American grapes. Showing off forbidden vines, including the clinton and isabelle varieties, on a property in the southern Cévennes region, near the town of Anduze, he added, “These vines are ideal for making natural wine.”

Memory of the Vine.” A membership fee of 10 euros, or about $12, yields a bottle.

With the growing threat of climate change and the backlash against the use of pesticides, Mr. Garnier is hoping that the forbidden grapes will be legalized and that France’s wine industry will open up to a new generation of hybrids — as Germany, Switzerland and other European nations already have.

“France is a great wine country,” he said. “To remain one, we have to open up. We can’t get stuck on what we already know.”

Léontine Gallois contributed reporting.

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Greek Island Is New Epicenter of Europe’s Summer of Calamity

EVIA, Greece — Amid twisted cages and scorched trees, Harilaos Tertipis stepped out of his ruined stables dragging the charred corpses of his sheep — burned, like so much else, in the wildfires that have raged across Greece.

As the survivors of his flock huddled together on a roadside hill below, the bells on their necks clanging and their legs singed, he said that if he had stayed with his animals instead of rushing home to protect his family and house, “I wouldn’t be here now.”

scientists have now concluded is irreversible.

before we reach irreversible tipping points.”

But a string of disasters this summer has left many to wonder whether that tipping point is already here, driving home the realization that climate change is no longer a distant threat for future generations, but an immediate scourge affecting rich and poor nations alike.

Turkey and Algeria, virtually no corner of Europe has been untouched by a bewildering array of calamities, whether fire, flood or heat.

Sweltering temperatures have set off wildfires in Sweden, Finland and Norway. Formerly once-in-a-millennium flooding in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands killed at least 196 people. Places in Italy hit more than 118 degrees this week, while parts of the country were variously scorched by fire, battered by hailstorms or inundated by floods.

“It’s not just Greece,” said Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, a spokesman for the Greek fire service. “It’s the whole European ecosystem.”

But the shifting epicenter of natural disaster has now fallen on Evia, a densely wooded island northeast of Athens, once best known for its beekeepers and resin producers, its olive groves and seaside resorts, and now a capital of the consequences of a warming planet.

This week, as firefighters scrambled to put out rekindling fires and helicopters dropped seawater to sate licking flames, acres of burned hillsides and fields lay under white ash, as if dusted with snow.

I drove through winding roads riddled with fallen trees and electric wires. Smoke hung low, like a thick fog. The trunks of mangled trees still smoldered and the hive boxes of beekeepers looked like burned end tables abandoned in empty fields. Miles away from the fires, the smoke still left an acrid taste in my mouth. Ash drifted around cafes where waitresses constantly watered down tables and the sun imbued the dense haze with a sickly orange hue.

“We lived in paradise,” said Babis Apostolou, 59, tears in his eyes as he looked over the charred land surrounding his village, Vasilika, on the northern tip of Evia. “Now it’s hell.”

This week, the fires covered new ground. In the southern Peloponnese, where wildfires killed more than 60 people in 2007, a long stretch of fire tore through forest and houses, prompting the evacuation of more than 20 more villages. But many Greeks have refused to leave their homes.

When the police told Argyro Kypraiou, 59, in the Evia village of Kyrinthos to evacuate on Saturday, she stayed. As the trees across the street blazed, she fought the airborne barrage of burning pine cones and flames with a garden hose. When the water ran out she beat back the fire with branches.

“If we had left, the houses would have burned,” she said across from the still smoldering ravine. A truck rolled by and the driver leaned out the window, shouting to her that there was another fire in the field behind her house. “We keep putting out fires,” she shouted back. “We don’t have any other job.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister of Greece, has called the recent days “among the hardest for our country in decades” and promised to compensate the afflicted and reforest the land. Residents across the seared north of Evia complained that the government had failed to fly water-dropping aircraft out to them fast enough or that it had waited too long to ask the European Union for help.

Greece’s top prosecutor has ordered up an investigation into whether criminal activity could possibly have sparked the fires, perhaps to clear land for development. Many here blamed mysterious arsonists for starting the fire.

“This is arson,” said Mr. Apostolou. “I had heard they want to put in wind turbines.”

Mr. Tertipis said, “I hope the person who set these fires will suffer as much as my animals.”

But it was also possible that the finger-pointing at arsonists stemmed from a feeling of powerlessness and the need to blame someone — anyone — for a crisis that at least some acknowledged was everyone’s fault.

“We all have to make changes,” said Irini Anastasiou, 28, who expected the fires to keep happening around the world as the planet warmed. She looked out from the front desk of her now empty hotel in Pefki, one of the hardest-hit towns, and saw an opaque wall of haze over the sea.

“Usually, you see clear across to the mountains,” she said. “Now you can see nothing.”

The residents of Evia did what they could. In the town of Prokopi, volunteer firefighters set up base in the Forest Museum (“focused on man and his relationship to the forest”).

Hundreds of boxes packed with supplies for the displaced cluttered the log cabin. They brimmed with crackers and cereals and granola bars. Soft stacks of children-and-adult diapers reached up to the windows. Boxes held medicines and burn creams, aloe vera, Flamigel, hydrogel and Flogo Instant Calm Spray, under a sign promoting TWIG, the Transnational Woodland Industries Group.

An international group of emergency workers operated out of the cabin. Some of the 108 firefighters sent by Romania coordinated with Greek Army officials and local authorities to put out the flames. Some volunteers went out with chain saws to cut down trees while those returning leaned against a wall of bottled water and ruminated on what had gone wrong.

Ioannis Kanellopoulos, 62, blamed heavy snowfall during the winter for breaking so many branches and creating so much kindling on the forest floor. But the intense heat did not help.

“When the fire broke out it was 113 degrees in the shade,” he said.

He said the previous benchmark for destruction in the area was a 1977 blaze. This fire had far eclipsed it, he said, and guaranteed that it would not be surpassed for years.

“There’s nothing left to burn,” he said.

“It’s not California,” added his friend Spiros Michail, 52.

That there was nothing left to burn was the island’s common refrain. The punchline to the terrible joke nature had played on them.

But it wasn’t true. There was plenty more to burn.

At night the fires came back, appearing on the dark hillsides in the distance like Chinese lanterns. The fires burned on the sides of the roads like ghostly campsites.

Stylianos Totos, a forest ranger, stood rod straight as he looked through binoculars at a hillside near Ellinika.

“How do we get access to that one,” he called to his colleague in a truck carrying more than a ton of water. He worried that the wind would change direction from east to west and feed the fire with fresh pines. Just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, one of the small flames flared up, lighting all the barren land and twisted branches around it. “Andrea,” he shouted. “Call it in.”

But any help, and any change in global behavior, had come too late for Mr. Tertipis and his flock.

Mr. Tertipis, 60, who lost his mother and suffered permanent scarring on his left arm in 1977’s fire, rushed back from home to his stables before dawn on Sunday. The fire had consumed half his flock, but left a plush green pine tree and verdant field untouched only a few dozen yards away.

“That’s how it is, in five minutes, you live or die,” he said, adding, “the fire just changes all the time.”

For two days he could not answer the phone or do much of anything other than weep. Then he started cleaning up, wading through the remains in galoshes, dragging load after load away, using a sled he fashioned from a hook and a broken refrigerator door.

He had been raising animals all his life, and he said he had no choice but to keep going, no matter how inhospitable the weather around him had become.

“Things may have changed,” he said with a shrug. “What are you going to do? Just give up?”

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Evia.

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