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Global concern about the coronavirus pandemic is growing, with a number of countries detecting confirmed cases of the Omicron variant for the first time.

Travel restrictions are also being imposed once again as governments suspend flights from southern Africa, the region where this strain was first detected.

Here is a look at the latest COVID-19 developments around the world.

Israel is set to become the first country to completely shut its borders. File pic
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Israel is set to become the first country to completely shut its borders. File pic

Israel

On Saturday, Israel unveiled plans to ban all foreigners from entering the country.

If the proposals are approved, it will become the first nation to completely shut its borders in response to the Omicron variant.

There are fears that B.1.1.529 could be more contagious than other variants – and more resistant to vaccines.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban would last for 14 days.

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So far, Israel has one confirmed case of the Omicron variant, and seven suspected cases.

Phone-tracking technology is going to be used to locate carriers of the new variant, in an attempt to stop it being transmitted to others.

Dr Anthony Fauci 'wouldn't be surprised' if the Omicron variant is already in the US. File pic
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Dr Anthony Fauci ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if the Omicron variant is already in the US. File pic

The US

From Monday, the US is going to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region.

American citizens and permanent US residents – along with spouses and close friends – will be exempt.

No cases linked to Omicron have been detected in the country so far.

But Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease specialist, told NBC that he wouldn’t be surprised if the variant is already in the States, adding: “When you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility … it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over.”

In separate developments, New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a COVID-19 “disaster emergency” declaration on Friday, with infections and hospitalisations increasing in the state.

A business traveller from Italy caught the Omicron variant on a trip to Mozambique. File pic
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A business traveller from Italy caught the Omicron variant on a trip to Mozambique. File pic

Italy

On Saturday, health officials confirmed that a case of the Omicron variant had been detected in Italy.

The business traveller had flown from Mozambique, landing in Rome on 11 November and returning to his home in Naples.

Five of his family members, including two children, have also tested positive. All are now isolating and have light symptoms.

Two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the southern state of Bavaria. File pic
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Two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the southern state of Bavaria. File pic

Germany

The Omicron variant has also been detected in two travellers who arrived on a flight from South Africa on 24 November.

Although genome sequencing is yet to be completed, it is “proven without doubt that this is the variant”.

Both cases were detected in the southern state of Bavaria, and another suspected case has been found in the west of the country.

Dutch officials are 'almost certain' that the Omicron variant is in the country
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Dutch officials are ‘almost certain’ that the Omicron variant is in the country

The Netherlands

Dutch health officials have detected 61 COVID-19 cases among people who flew from South Africa on Friday.

Although the Netherlands Institute for Health is “almost certain” some of these patients have the Omicron variant, further testing is required to be absolutely sure.

The KLM airline expressed surprise at the high number of cases because all passengers had either tested negative or shown proof of vaccination before boarding flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Authorities in the country are now attempting to contact 5,000 passengers who have travelled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe since Monday.

Switzerland has banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region
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Switzerland has banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region

Switzerland

Quarantine requirements have been widened to a greater number of travellers in an attempt to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.

Those arriving from the UK, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi will now be subject to tighter restrictions.

The Federal Office of Public Health said passengers from these countries will need to present a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for 10 days too.

Direct flights have already been banned from South Africa and the surrounding region.

Despite cases being detected in Italy and Germany, both neighbours of Switzerland, travel restrictions have not been imposed on any countries it shares borders with.

Spain is clamping down on unvaccinated Britons entering the country
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Spain is clamping down on unvaccinated Britons entering the country

Spain

From next month, British tourists will only be able to enter Spain if they can show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Until now, unvaccinated travellers were allowed into the country if they could present a negative PCR test that was take 72 hours before their arrival.

“The appearance of new variants causing (coronavirus) obliges an increase in restrictions,” the government said.

Spain’s Industry, Trade and Tourism department said approximately 300,000 British people who are resident in Spain will not be affected by the new measures.

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Group try to steal Banksy mural from wall in Ukrainian town

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Group try to steal Banksy mural from wall in Ukrainian town

A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural from a battle-scarred wall in Ukraine, the governor of the region has said.

They managed to slice off a section of board and plaster bearing the image of a woman in a gas mask and dressing gown holding a fire extinguisher.

But they were spotted at the scene in the city of Hostomel, near Kyiv, and the mural was retrieved, Oleksiy Kuleba said in a statement.

He added that the image was still intact and the police were protecting it.

“These images are, after all, symbols of our struggle against the enemy… we’ll do everything to preserve these works of street art as a symbol of our victory,” he said.

Police shared images of the yellow wall in Hostomel, with had a large patch cut all the way back to the brickwork.

They said a number of people were arrested at the scene.

A group tried to take the mural

Banksy confirmed he had painted the mural and six others last month in places which had suffered particularly heavy fighting after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

One shows a female gymnast balancing on a damaged building, while another depicts a man resembling Russian President Vladimir Putin being flipped during a judo match with a little boy, and another shows two children using a metal tank trap as a seesaw.

Banksy’s work can sell for millions of pounds on the art market.

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Sajid Javid stepping down at next election

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Sajid Javid stepping down at next election

Sajid Javid has announced he will not stand in the next general election, saying being an MP had been “the privilege of [his] life”.

The former chancellor, who has held a number of senior roles in government alongside his Bromsgrove seat, is the most high-profile Tory MP to decide to step down at the next national vote, expected in 2024.

It comes amid reports the Conservative Party has told its MPs to decide about their future by Monday, with a number of younger members already confirming their exits.

He has also made the announcement on the day Labour secured an historic majority in the City of Chester by-election, with stark warnings that such a swing nationally could cause the Tories big problems the next time the country goes to the polls.

Politics live: Sunak ‘on borrowed time’ after Tory vote collapses in by-election

In a letter to his party chairman posted on Twitter, Mr Javid said it was “a decision I have wrestled with for some time”, but one that had been “accelerated” due to the party deadline.

“Being the local MP and serving in government has been the privilege of my life and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to serve,” he said.

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“I always sought to make decisions in the national interest, and in line with my values, and I can only hope my best was sufficient.”

He pledged the decision would not impact his work as an MP during his remaining time in office, adding: “I will of course continue to support my friend the prime minister and the people of Bromsgrove in any way I can.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “sad to see my good friend… stepping back from politics”, tweeting: “He’s been a proud champion of enterprise and opportunity during his time in government and on the backbenches – particularly for the people of Bromsgrove.”

Ending with a Star Wars quote, the PM added: “May the Force be with you, Saj.”

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After resigning from government over Boris Johnson’s conduct earlier this year, he made a cutting speech in the Commons

Mr Javid first came into parliament in 2010 at the start of the coalition government, and got his first job on the front bench in 2012 as economic secretary to the Treasury.

Over the past 12 years he has held some of the highest offices of state, including home secretary and chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr Javid quit the latter role in 2020 – less than three months into the job – after the then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his senior adviser Dominic Cummings insisted he sack his aides and replace them with ones chosen by Downing Street.

He returned to Mr Johnson’s top team as health secretary in June 2021 after Matt Hancock resigned after being caught on CCTV kissing one of his aides and breaking his own COVID guidance.

But he was the first minister to resign in the wave of exits that led to Mr Johnson’s downfall over the summer, followed minutes later by then-Chancellor and now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Mr Javid twice ran for the leadership of his party, but lost out to Mr Johnson and his successor, Liz Truss.

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Blitz spirit in Kyiv as heat, light and water supplies are knocked out for days

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Blitz spirit in Kyiv as heat, light and water supplies are knocked out for days

The host of a conference in Kyiv alerted guests that air raid sirens were sounding, before assuring them they were safe and the event would carry on as planned.

It is a small example of how people across Ukraine are learning to cope with the unpredictability of war while carrying on with their lives in a test of endurance that has been likened – in its spirit – to what the UK lived through during the Blitz in the Second World War.

Stepping onto the stage at the Kyiv Security Forum, amid the air raid warning, was Vitali Klitschko, the city’s major.

He is overseeing support for residents at a crucial moment following several waves of Russian missile strikes against energy infrastructure since early October.

Last week, they knocked out the lights, heat and water supplies for much of the capital for up to two days – a brutal taste of how bad conditions could become, if more attacks cause even graver damage as winter bites.

Mr Klitschko said he wanted to speak bluntly about the risk, telling his audience that the people of Kyiv need to be prepared for various scenarios “even the worse one” – with power out for a prolonged period of time.

He offered this advice: “Stock up on water, non-perishable food and warm clothes. Also anyone with friends or relatives who live in rural areas away from the city should talk with them and be prepared to move out there if necessary, should conditions worsen.”

Power cuts have increased in frequency in recent weeks
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Power cuts have increased in frequency in recent weeks

Asked afterwards by Sky News whether he was worried that Russia could freeze residents in the city to death with its missile strikes, he said the priority was to be prepared.

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“The main goal of Russians, we know, they tried to destroy our infrastructure, critical infrastructure, they want to freeze us. But we have to be prepared for any case, also for [a] worst case scenario,” he said, speaking in English.

“That is why everyone in the city government has to know what we have to do in a critical situation, how we can help the people because it will be [a] catastrophe if the Russians totally destroyed our infrastructure. It will be [a] humanitarian catastrophe.”

A local food market in Kyiv
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A local food market in Kyiv
A local food market in Kyiv

At the same time, he underlined the determination of residents to endure: “It’s our cities, our homes. We don’t want to leave. The Russians try to bring depression on our citizens… I talked to our citizens. They are very angry and ready to stay and ready to fight.”

As for whether what Kyiv residents were having to endure could be likened to the Blitz spirit, the mayor said: “It is [a] pretty similar situation [to the] Second World War in London.”

That spirit of defiance was on display at a local food market, where shoppers bustled from stall to stall almost as normal – despite the knowledge Russia could launch a new missile strike at any moment.

Halyna and Georgii Bohun said they have not left Kyiv since the first day of the full-scale invasion on 24 February.

Kyiv

They likened their country’s experience – in terms of carrying on despite the dangers – to what people in the UK felt during the Blitz.

“We were thinking: if they survived after such bombardment, we will also survive,” Halyna, 60, a pharmacy worker, said.

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Her husband even compared Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Winston Churchill.

“Sometimes they even use similar words, even their minds are similar,” said Georgii, 73, a retired energy industry worker.

The pair said they had enjoyed a lull in missile strikes over the past week, but were ready for worse to come.

“We are not afraid,” said Halyna. “What will be will be. But we are for freedom and only for our country’s victory.”

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