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Germany faces ‘national emergency’ due to COVID surge



German Health Minister Jens Spahn on November 19 said that the pandemic situation has worsened over the past week and it’s now “more serious than last week,” adding that the country is facing “a national emergency.” When asked about the possibility of imposing a new lockdown for everyone, he said: “We’re in a situation where we can’t rule anything out.” The comments came as Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, approved new restrictions to curb COVID, a day after the lower house passed the measures. Spahn was talking at a press conference together with Lothar Wieler, the head of the country’s infectious disease agency the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Wieler painted a dramatic picture of the coronavirus situation, pointing out that in over a quarter of districts nationwide, the seven-day incidence rate is above 500 new infections per 100,000 people and that many hospitals are at breaking point. “We need to turn the tide. There’s really no time to lose.” Wieler also stressed the importance of vaccinations. “Vaccinations are working very, very well,” he said, adding: “We need to close the vaccination gaps now.”

What is the current COVID situation in Germany?

In the past two weeks, the number of new cases has jumped by more than 60 per cent. On November 19, Germany recorded 52,970 daily new infections, a day after registering over 65,000 daily cases, a record since the start of the pandemic. Health officials are warning that the number is likely to at least double in the coming days.

Uwe Janssens, secretary-general of the German Society for Internal Intensive Care, told DW the numbers were “absolutely worrying.” He pointed out that patients who suffer severe disease after getting infected with the virus end up in the intensive care unit much later, “with a delay of up to 15 days.” “Currently, around 0.8 per cent of infected people will have to be treated further in an intensive care unit during the course of an infection,” he said. And if there are 50,000-60,000 new infections a day, “you can count how many people will reach the intensive care units in 7 to 10 to 12 days.” The situation is becoming “too much to handle,” he stressed.

What are the new rules?

As per the new rules, the so-called hospitalization incidence will be the new benchmark for introducing tougher COVID regulations in the country. According to that metric, if more than three inhabitants per 100,000 in a region are hospitalized with COVID, the “2G” rule will apply for all public leisure activities in a given state — referring to the shorthand in Germany for a rule that allows freedoms like access to restaurants and hotels only to those who are either vaccinated or have recovered from COVID.

The “2G+” rule will kick in when the hospitalization incidence hits a value of six per 100,000, meaning even the vaccinated and recovered people will be required to produce an additional negative COVID test result. From a value of nine, further measures such as contact restrictions are to be implemented. At present, all German states except Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland are above the value of three. Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia are above the value of nine.

What else has been agreed?

The plans include mandatory daily testing for employees and visitors of care homes, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not. They also include “3G” rules (vaccinated, recovered, or tested) requiring people to show proof of full vaccination or recovery or a valid negative COVID test result for workplaces and on public transport. Rapid antigen tests will remain free of charge for everyone. Work from home rules would also be reinstated. Nurses, especially those working in intensive care facilities, will receive a bonus.

Germany’s 16 states will be also able to retain and introduce protective measures. This includes restricting or prohibiting recreational, cultural, and sporting events, banning entry to healthcare facilities and the sale and public consumption of alcohol, and closing universities. Measures will not include school closures, blanket travel restrictions, or mandatory vaccination. The new rules are likely to come into force next week.

What other steps can Germany take?

Talking to DW, German Green Party lawmaker and doctor Paula Piechotta said the country should only introduce a general lockdown as “the measure of last resort.” However, Germany is already very close to this step, she added. “If a lot of legislators and deciders don’t act, a general lockdown will be necessary,” Piechotta said.

Piechotta also warned of low levels of trust in vaccines in Germany and Europe. “If we can’t achieve sufficient vaccination rates on a non-mandatory basis,” she said, “we have to talk about vaccine mandates, especially for people who work in vulnerable settings like nursing homes and hospitals.” Making vaccination mandatory would be less disruptive than another general lockdown, she added.

Bavaria imposes ‘de facto lockdown’ for the unvaccinated

Bavaria announced on November 19 that it’s canceling all Christmas markets in the state. The state government has also imposed a lockdown on all districts that have a seven-day COVID incidence rate of over 1,000 per 100,000 people. Premier Markus Söder said there will be a “de facto lockdown” for unvaccinated people by implementing the “2G” rule across the state. The unvaccinated will lose access to even places like hairdressers, universities or adult education centers. There will also be contact restrictions, with the unvaccinated allowed to meet with a maximum of five people from two households.

Even in areas with incidence rates lower than 1,000, there will be restrictions. For sports and cultural events, the number of spectators will be limited to 25 per cent of the venue’s total capacity and the “2G+” rule will apply — meaning even the vaccinated and recovered people will be required to produce an additional negative COVID test result. In retail stores, there will be a limit on the number of customers allowed inside: one customer per 10 square meters. All retail outlets and restaurants will also have to be closed by 10 p.m.

Saxony applies new restrictions

To the north of Bavaria, the eastern German state of Saxony on November 19 announced widespread public restrictions to start on November 22 and remain in place at least until December 12 to combat a surge in COVID cases. Christmas markets throughout the state, including one of Germany’s largest in Dresden, are canceled. Bars, nightclubs, gyms, museums and many other public venues must close. Retail stores and restaurants may remain open until 8 p.m. under the “2G” rule. Schools and daycares will remain open. Sporting events can continue, but without an audience.

There will also be a night curfew in place starting on November 22 from 10:00 p.m. to 6 a.m. in districts with seven-day incidence rates of 1,000 cases per 100,000 people, said Saxony’s social affairs minister, Petra Köpping. There are currently two districts in Saxony with seven-day incidence rates topping 1,000/100,000. Health officials say the COVID surge in Saxony can be attributed to the state’s lagging vaccination rate, which with less than 58 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, is the lowest in Germany.

Emphasis on COVID booster shots

Meanwhile, Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) on November 18 recommended booster shots for all adults. It said the boosters should be given six months after the last vaccine shot. However, that could be shortened to five months if there is enough capacity. The committee recommend priority for booster shots be given to the immunocompromised, people over 70, residents and caregivers at elder care homes and staff in medical facilities. Regardless of what vaccine was given previously, mRNA vaccines should be administered as booster shots. Pregnant women after the second trimester should also receive booster shots.

Nevertheless, Germany’s vaccination rate has stagnated at under 70 per cent in recent weeks, a relatively lower vaccine take-up compared to other parts of Western Europe. “We have to intensify vaccinations as much as possible, but above all, the boost to vaccination and unfortunately, the vaccination centers were closed, even though the development was foreseeable. Now we are chasing after things,” Janssens underlined.

Hospitals under severe strain

The latest COVID wave has put hospitals in parts of Germany under immense strain. “In the south of Germany, in Bavaria, Saxony and Baden-Württemberg and other areas, the hospitals and even the intensive care units have such a high pressure, such a high load that in some regions there are zero free intensive care unit beds,” Janssens said, adding: “So we have to postpone planned operations.” Hospitals are struggling to cope because of not only rising number of patients but also a shortage of trained personnel. Long hours, low pay and stress during the pandemic have served to put people off a job in the health care sector.

wmr,sri/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)


Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen said the investigators looking into the Trump Organization could ‘indict Donald Trump tomorrow’ and be successful



Michael Cohen exits a car while wearing a mask

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney, arrives at his Park Avenue home after being released from federal prison on July 24, 2020, in New York City.Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

  • Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen said prosecutors could successfully indict the former president.

  • He said the New York investigation is going after Trump Org executives, Trump, and his family.

  • Cohen said he had supplied investigators with “thousands and thousands” of documents.

New York prosecutors investigating the Trump Organization and its finances “could indict Donald Trump tomorrow if they really wanted and be successful,” Michael Cohen, the former president’s ex-personal attorney, said Sunday.

In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Cohen discussed the ongoing criminal investigation against Trump, led by the Manhattan district attorney and New York attorney general. It’s centered on a number of potential financial crimes by Trump’s organization — most notably the question of whether he fraudulently inflated the value of his assets to gain an edge in financing deals.

Cohen said he had supplied “thousands and thousands” of documents to the prosecutors and that other witnesses have been roped into the investigation.

When asked by the host Chuck Todd whether he was “confident you did help Donald Trump commit crimes,” Cohen said: “I can assure you that Donald Trump is guilty of his own crimes. Was I involved in much of the inflation and deflation of his assets? The answer to that is yes.”

He declined to talk about the case against Trump in detail, as he didn’t want to “tip off Trump or the Trump Organization’s people about what is actually happening.”

But he did say prosecutors are taking aim at the former president and his family.

“You can bet your bottom dollar that Allen Weisselberg is not, and I truly mean this, Allen Weisselberg is not the key to this,” Cohen said, referring to the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer. Weisselberg was charged with 15 felony counts including scheme to defraud, conspiracy, and grand larceny.

“They are going after Donald. They’re going after Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, a whole slew of individuals — family as well,” Cohen said. Cohen also repeated his previous assertion that Trump wouldn’t run in the 2024 elections, saying that the former president’s “Big Lie” fundraising appeals — based on claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him — are the “greatest grift in US history.”

When Todd asked whether Cohen believed the Trump Organization is a “criminal enterprise,” Cohen responded: “I don’t even know how to answer that. Are they a criminal enterprise? Let’s just say that they committed crimes.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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How Indian vaccines will fare against COVID’s Omicron variant



India has currently granted emergency usage authorisation to multiple vaccines, of which the only mRNA vaccine by Moderna is not yet available in the country.

As of now, Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Russian vaccine Sputnik V are being administered in India to people who fit the eligibility criteria.

Both Covishield and Russia’s Sputnik V uses the adenoviral vector technology to trigger an immune response using a modified version of a different virus, known as a vector. Covaxin on the other hand, is developed using Whole-Virion Inactivated Vero Cell derived platform technology, wherein the inactivated virus does not replicate but mounts a defensive immune response against the infection.

Since the new Omicron variant is known to have many mutations in the spike protein that are targeted by the vaccine antibodies, there could be some changes in vaccine efficacy.

However, according to Dr. Panda, only time could tell and determine how effective the vaccines will prove against the new variant. He says, “There are different kinds of vaccines. Some are directed towards the spike protein of the virus which gets attached to the receptor. So, if changes happened there, vaccines might not be effective.” In simple terms, if the spike protein that helps the virus to enter the host cell continues to mutate, it might become difficult for the vaccine-induced antibodies to detect and neutralize it, making it more rampant.

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Sex And The City cast explore a new chapter of friendship in trailer for reboot



The trailer for the Sex And The City reboot And Just Like That shows the classic characters talking dating apps, the future and friendship.

Sarah Jessica Parker gets back into character as New York City columnist Carrie Bradshaw, alongside Cynthia Nixon as Miranda Hobbes and Kristin Davis as Charlotte York.

The 10-part romantic comedy drama will jump 20 years in the character’s lives and follow them taking on a “new chapter” as they navigate life and friendship in their 50s in New York City.

The short video clip opens with Bradshaw evolving from her former column to talking on a podcast, with her voice-over running throughout the trailer.

She says: “The more I live, the more I find that if you have good friends in your corner, anything’s possible.

“The future is unwritten because we’re all at different stages of life.

“And just like that, over all the years, and all the changes, you are still you.”

Throughout the video, the main trio can be seen laughing at lunch together and attending stand-up shows.

Other fan-favourites from the original series make an appearance during the trailer, including Chris Noth as Mr Big, Evan Handler as Charlotte’s husband Harry Goldenblatt, Mario Cantone as Anthony Marentino and David Eigenberg as Steve Brady.

The late Willie Garson, who played Bradshaw’s best friend Stanford, also briefly features alongside the actress in the short video. The actor died in September aged 57 following a battle with cancer.

New additions to the series – Sara Ramirez, Sarita Choudhury, Nicole Ari Parker and Karen Pittman – also make an appearance.

Choudhury’s character Seema Patel is asked by Bradshaw how many dating apps is she on, to which she responds: “I’m just waiting for someone to create a dating site which is called ‘Here’s the man you have been searching for Seema’.”

The fourth character from the classic Sex And The City quartet, Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, will not be appearing following years of a reported rift between her and Parker.

The original series ran for six seasons from 1998 to 2004, as well as two feature films released in 2008 and 2010.

– The series will air on HBO Max from December 9.

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