Sexy Lingerie Makes Post-Pandemic Comeback

Models present lingerie creations during a fashion show as part of the International lingerie fair, in Paris, on June 18, 2022. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

 

 

 

Sexy women’s underwear didn’t fare too well during the jogging-bottoms-and-pyjamas phase of the pandemic, but from the red carpet to lingerie shows, ultra-sultry intimate apparel is making a comeback — and is now much more visible.

Rihanna helped set the mood with her radical approach to pregnancy fashion — sporting a transparent babydoll dress over a black thong at the Dior show in Paris this winter.

Or there was Megan Fox’s all-but-invisible Mugler dress over a white thong at last year’s MTV Awards.

Having your undies on display has been tried by the likes of Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and even fictional fashion icon Carrie Bradshaw on “And Just Like That…”

“It’s a trend that we see a lot in pop culture. Rihanna, Cardi B, Kim Kardashian — they’ve seized on these styles in a very extroverted way and with a real feminist dimension,” Renaud Cambuzat, creative director for Chantelle, told AFP.

Lingerie brand Chantelle was previously associated with comfort above all, but it has joined the trend, launching a new Chantelle X line that prioritises sexiness.

That was the dominant vibe across this year’s International Salon of Lingerie in Paris which concluded on Monday — where many were embracing the new appetite for thongs and transparent designs.

Experts say there has been a shift, however, and that this trend emphasises women wearing lingerie for themselves rather than trying to impress others.

“We are witnessing the return of the scruffy sexuality of the 2000s — styles that refer to the archetype of the objectified woman, but which no longer have the same meaning,” said Benjamin Simmenauer, philosopher and professor at the French Institute of Fashion.

“It is no longer a question of being ordered to seduce, but of a feminist reappropriation of sexualised clothing,” he added.

 

A person looks at lingerie creations during the International lingerie fair, in Paris, on June 18, 2022. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

 

– Re-investing in sexy –
The return of sexy lingerie marks a course correction after several years of change in the lingerie business, Chantelle’s Cambuzat said.

“Four or five years ago, we were in #MeToo, and there was a desire to move towards something seen as more respectful,” said Cambuzat.

“The #MeToo fight is not completely won but the field has opened up. There are women and brands that have found legitimate ways to reinvest in ultra-sexy styles.”

The change is evident in the way the big brands have embraced greater diversity in their models and advertising.

 

Models present lingerie creations during a fashion show, as part of the International lingerie fair, in Paris, on June 18, 2022. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

 

Victoria’s Secret — which was seen as symbolising a narrow beauty ideal in the past —  has abandoned its slogan “The Perfect Body” and its army of “Angels” in favour of more full-figured models and strong personalities such as footballer Megan Rapinoe.

“We must not confuse #MeToo and puritanism. A woman can also wish to seduce out of her own conviction,” added Samar Vignals, of French lingerie brand Aubade, which has asserted the need for “more audacity” in the post-pandemic moment.

The company, previously known for its monochrome close-ups on bums and breasts, is now running ads that show faces, sometimes staring straight into the lens.

Aline Tran, founder of the erotic lingerie boutique Les Rituelles, said there needs to be less anxiety around seduction, and it should instead be seen as something empowering.

 

A model presents lingerie creations during a fashion show, as part of the International lingerie fair in Paris, on June 18, 2022. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

 

“We talk a lot more about acceptance of our bodies,” she told AFP. “Seduction is a great feminist asset. It allows us to regain control over our body and by extension over our mind.”

UK Unemployment Falls Below Pre-Pandemic Level

UK To Boost African Partnership With £30m
UK Flag

 

Britain’s unemployment rate has fallen below its pre-pandemic level, data showed Tuesday, but wages are eroding at the fastest pace in eight years as inflation soars.

The UK unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent in the three months to the end of January from 4.1 percent in the final quarter of last year, “returning to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels”, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Welcoming news that the number of unemployed fell to around 1.34 million people, finance minister Rishi Sunak added he was confident the labour market was in a “good position to deal with the current global challenges”.

There are worries that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, soaring global inflation and renewed Covid lockdowns in China will hamper the world’s economic recovery.

The ONS added that the number of UK workers on payrolls jumped 275,000 to a record-high 29.7 million in February.

Wages Hit

Wages, however, are being eroded with Britain experiencing the highest rate of annual inflation in almost 30 years.

Taking inflation into account, average pay excluding bonuses was down one percent in the quarter to the end of January.

“Bumper bonuses are skewing pay figures, so on initial glance everything in the jobs market looks rosy,” said Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“However, something far more worrying is lurking underneath the headline figures, because once you take inflation into account, pay excluding bonuses has fallen faster than at any time for almost eight years.”

The cost of living is set to soar further from April owing to a tax hike on UK workers and businesses plus increases in energy bills.

And the Bank of England is expected to raise interest rates for a third meeting in a row on Thursday to help bring down inflation.

“The further tightening in the labour market in January will only encourage the Bank of England to raise interest rates on Thursday, probably from 0.50 percent to 0.75 percent,” said Capital Economics chief economist Paul Dales.

UN Chief Warns Pandemic Not Over, Decries Vaccine Inequality

In this file photo taken on February 4, 2020 United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP)

 

After two years the Covid-19 pandemic is not yet over and could be prolonged further due to “scandalously unequal” vaccine distribution, the UN secretary-general warned Wednesday.

“The pandemic’s most tragic toll has been on the health and lives of millions, with more than 446 million cases worldwide, more than six million deaths confirmed, and countless more grappling with worsening mental health,” said UN chief Antonio Guterres in a statement marking the second anniversary of the global crisis.

“Thanks to unprecedented public health measures, and the extraordinarily rapid development and deployment of vaccines, many parts of the world are bringing the pandemic under control,” he said.

“But it would be a grave mistake to think the pandemic is over.”

Guterres noted that the “distribution of vaccines remains scandalously unequal,” and that while 1.5 billion doses of vaccine are produced each month, “nearly three billion people are still waiting for their first shot.”

“This failure is the direct result of policy and budgetary decisions that prioritize the health of people in wealthy countries over the health of people in poor countries,” said Guterres.

He added that the two-tiered recovery is “a recipe for more variants, more lockdowns and more sorrow and sacrifice in every country.”

The statement concluded by calling on the whole world to “re-dedicate ourselves to ending this pandemic… and closing this sad chapter in humanity’s history, once and for all.”

US Ships Nearly 1.7 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To Uganda

A Photo of COVID19 vaccine doses from #COVAX

 

The United States is shipping nearly 1.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Uganda, a White House official said Thursday, in the latest wave of jabs donated to stem the global pandemic.

“Thanks to the US commitment to playing a leading role in ending the pandemic everywhere, the United States is shipping 1,684,800 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Uganda,” a senior US official said, asking not to be named.

The vaccines are being shipped, starting Thursday, through Covax, the global distribution initiative co-led by public-private partnership Gavi.

On Wednesday, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced that the United States had reached the milestone of 400 million vaccine doses delivered to 112 countries.

“Four hundred million doses shipped for free with no strings attached,” Zients said.

Washington has pledged 1.1 billion shots to the rest of the world — more than any other country — and has already sent vaccines to countries ranging from Guatemala to Papua New Guinea.

The US shots often cross paths with shipments from China and Russia in what has been dubbed “vaccine diplomacy,” although the US official insisted “we are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions.”

READ ALSO: More Than 200 New Species Found In Mekong, Says WWF

According to figures from Johns Hopkins University, just 4.36 percent of Uganda’s population is fully vaccinated.

Uganda ended the world’s longest school closure earlier this month, ordering millions of students back to the classroom nearly two years after learning was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country of some 45 million people recorded 160,778 Covid-19 cases, with 3,497 deaths, according to latest figures from Johns Hopkins.

Covax Opens New Front In Pandemic Arms Race

This photograph taken on February 24, 2021 shows a Covax tag on a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from the Covax global Covid-19 vaccination programme.  (Photo by Nipah Dennis / AFP)

 

Covax aims to break the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022 by ensuring a steady supply of vaccines at last for the world’s poorest countries — and swiftly getting them into arms.

The global scheme, aimed at procuring donor-funded jabs for the 91 weakest economies, delivered its one billionth dose last weekend — a major milestone that came far later than anticipated after a year of setbacks.

The battle for Covax in 2021 was getting hold of doses — besides rich countries cornering most of the vaccine supply, it faced export bans from producer countries, regulatory red tape and manufacturing delays.

READ ALSO: Pope ‘Concerned’ Over Ukraine, Risk To European Security

Rather than bulk-bought jabs, the scheme ended up relying on doses donated by wealthy nations, which too often were about to expire and couldn’t be used in time.

Covax sees the new front in 2022 as smoothing the supply chain — from a reliable stream off the production lines to efficient distribution set-ups in recipient countries.

The facility is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO); the Gavi vaccine alliance, which handles procurement; and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which invests in prospective vaccines.

– ‘Inequity 2.0’ fear –

Covax this week called for $5.2 billion over the next three months to steady the ship this year.

“We can break the cycle of transmission and the pain and suffering,” Gavi chief Seth Berkley told the funding drive launch.

However, “what we do not have today are the resources to help countries adapt to the new challenges that we know Covid-19 will create in 2022”.

Covax therefore wants to build a pool of 600 million doses to ensure a reliable supply, and to cover eventual variables such as boosters or new variant-specific vaccines.

It also needs to support readiness and delivery in poorer nations, and cover the costs of syringes and transportation.

“I think we’ll still have rocky supply for the next six months or so and I’m a little worried, frankly, if there are new variant vaccines, that we might have an inequity 2.0,” said Berkley.

Covax reckons it has enough confirmed vaccine supplies to jab 45 percent of the population in the poorest 91 economies.

But the WHO wants 70 percent fully jabbed in every country by July to end the acute phase of the pandemic — a much bigger stretch, given how far behind many countries are, especially in Africa, where more than 85 percent of people are yet to receive a single dose.

At the current pace of vaccine roll-out, 109 countries will miss the mid-2022 target, the WHO has said.

– ‘Back on track’ –

Covax was launched in June 2020, when few would have imagined that several highly effective vaccines would emerge within nine months. Historically, the vast majority of potential vaccines fail.

The first Covax doses were administered in March 2021, “but then we hit barrier after barrier”, said Berkley.

“We were able to get this back on track — and now you’re seeing an accelerated drive towards getting vaccines out.”

The next billion doses is expected to take four to five months to deliver.

Of the billion doses delivered so far, around 285 million were AstraZeneca, 260 million Pfizer, 150 million Moderna, 125 million Janssen, 95 million Sinopharm and 85 million Sinovac.

Only WHO-approved vaccines can be used, of which there are eight so far. The latest is a major CEPI-funded vaccine, Novavax, which could do much of the heavy lifting in 2022.

– Jabs for all ‘achievable’ –

CEPI chief executive Richard Hatchett said the target was now building capacity in poorer countries to roll out mass vaccination at speed.

“The last mile is going to be the major challenge for 2022,” he told a World Economic Forum session.

Up to 25 countries need particular help getting their vaccination programme in shape.

Overall, some 9.8 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered around the world. Covax jabs account for 82 percent of injections in the 91 poorest economies.

The top Covax donor-funded dose recipients so far are Bangladesh with 130 million, Indonesia 87 million, Pakistan 77 million and the Philippines 66 million.

Hatchett said that with the manufacturing capacity now available, helping poorer countries turn those doses into vaccinations could transform the course of the pandemic.

Whether primary vaccination or a booster, getting a jab to everyone who wants one “is an achievable goal in 2022”, he insisted.

Boris Johnson Calls End To Most COVID-19 Restrictions In England

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on as he welcomes Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq for talks in 10 Downing Street in London on December 16, 2021. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on as he welcomes Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq for talks in 10 Downing Street in London on December 16, 2021. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP

 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said most restrictions deployed to fight the latest wave of the Covid pandemic in England would be lifted from next week.

People will no longer have to wear masks in closed spaces, work from home and prove vaccination to enter public spaces such as nightclubs, Johnson told parliament.

“Because of the extraordinary booster campaign… we can return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire,” Johnson said.

Last month, England switched to “Plan B” in order to cope with what Johnson called a “tidal wave” of expected infections from the Omicron variant.

But he had to fight his own party to get the changes into law, as Conservative colleagues called the restrictions a step too far and a curb to public freedoms.

READ ALSO: Retired Angela Merkel Turns Down UN Job

The relaxing of restrictions have been seen as a concession to critics angry at revelations that he and his staff broke Covid lockdown rules by holding parties at Downing Street.

Johnson told MPs: “While there are some places where cases are likely to continue rising, including in primary schools, our scientists believe it is likely that the Omicron wave has now peaked nationally.”

Secondary school pupils will no longer be required to wear face masks from Thursday, Johnson said, calling for a review of self-isolation rules to be brought forward from March 24.

– Pandemic ‘not over’ –

After the Omicron variant emerged, Britain’s daily caseload for Covid topped a record 200,000 infections in early January, but has now dropped to less than half that.

“As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others,” Johnson said.

There was however still significant pressure on the state-run National Health Service “across our country”, Johnson said, encouraging people to have a booster vaccination.

“We know that around 90 percent of people in intensive care are not boosted,” Johnson said, insisting “the pandemic is not over”.

“Omicron is not a mild disease for everyone, especially if you’re not vaccinated.”

Latest government figures on Tuesday recorded 438 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for Covid, taking the overall toll to more than 152,500 since early 2020.

Facing restive Tory backbenchers, the prime minister had rebuffed calls by some scientists to impose a full lockdown in December, and allowed sporting events to continue with capacity crowds in England.

The devolved governments of Scotland and Wales imposed bans on large crowds at sports fixtures last month, but have now lifted that rule in time for the Six Nations rugby tournament starting next month.

Scotland on Tuesday said it was easing other coronavirus restrictions, allowing nightclubs to reopen and no longer requiring table service in bars.

Guidance asking people to stick to a three household limit on indoor gatherings will also be lifted, said Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The Welsh government has said a decline in Covid cases in intensive care means it will scale down its alert level from two to zero in coming weeks.

Pandemic Still Taking Heavy Toll On Jobs, Says UN

In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 the United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

The Covid-19 crisis is continuing to hit jobs hard around the world, the United Nations said Monday, warning it could take years for employment levels to reach pre-pandemic levels.

In a new study, the UN’s International Labour Organization revised its previous forecast that the global employment market will make a nearly full recovery from the virus this year.

Blaming the impacts of Covid variants like Delta and Omicron and uncertainty around how the pandemic will evolve, it now projects a significant deficit in working hours in 2022 compared to before Covid-19 emerged.

“Global labour markets are recovering from the crisis much more slowly than we previously expected,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters, warning that the outlook “remains fragile.”

“We are already seeing potentially lasting damage to labour markets, along with concerning increases in poverty and inequality.”

Monday’s report predicted that global working hours would be two percent below the numbers seen in 2019, leaving the world short of the equivalent of some 52 million jobs.

Last May, the ILO predicted the working hour shortage would be just half that this year.

At the same time, the global official unemployment rate remains significantly higher than before the pandemic hit.

– 207 million unemployed –

This year, 5.9 percent of workers globally, or some 207 million people, are expected to be officially registered as jobless, which is better than in 2021 and especially 2020, but still up from 186 million in 2019.

The ILO report said the global unemployment rate was projected to remain above the 5.4-percent rate seen before the crisis “until at least 2023”.

And it cautioned that the overall impact on employment is significantly greater than what these figures would imply, since many people have left the labour force altogether.

In 2022, the global labour force participation rate is projected to remain 1.2 percentage points below the level three years ago, it said.

That corresponds to a deficit of some 40 million workers worldwide, ILO said.

Ryder warned that the pandemic had already “weakened the economic, financial and social fabric in almost every country, regardless of development status.”

At the same time, the ILO pointed out that differences in vaccine access and in economic recovery measures meant the crisis was impacting groups of workers and countries in vastly different ways.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the report said labour markets in higher-income countries appeared to be recovering faster, although some were now beginning to face problems related to labour shortages, Ryder said.

– ‘Years to repair’ –

Numerous factors appear to be driving the so-called “Great Resignation” seen in some countries, Ryder said, adding that the crisis clearly “has led a significant number of people in the workforce to reconsider the employment that they have.”

Shifts in the way we work meanwhile seem to be deepening various forms of inequality, including exacerbating gender inequity, according to the report.

It has been clear from the start that the pandemic was disproportionately impacting women, who have taken on the lion’s share of the additional care work, and also more often work in hard-hit sectors, like services and travel.

But Ryder cautioned the impact could last well after the pandemic ends.

“There are concerns that the long-Covid effect on gender at work would be a negative one,” he said.

Changes like the move towards greater reliance on informal self-employment, the rise in remote work and shifting trends in temporary work, “all risk impairing the quality of working conditions”, the report said.

Ryder insisted that only a “broad-based labour market recovery” would allow the world to truly recover from the pandemic.

“To be sustainable, this recovery must be based on the principles of decent work — including health and safety, equity, social protection and social dialogue,” he said.

The ILO chief cautioned that “without concerted and effective international and domestic policies, it is likely that in many countries it will take years to repair this damage.”

Bethlehem Subdued For Second Pandemic Christmas

People gather outside the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus Christ's birth, during Christmas celebrations in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on December 24, 2021. ABBAS MOMANI / AFP
People gather outside the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus Christ’s birth, during Christmas celebrations in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on December 24, 2021. ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

 

In Bethlehem’s Manger Square, visitors in Santa hats and scouts beating drums marked Christmas Eve on Friday, but fewer people attended as coronavirus fears overshadowed celebrations for a second year.

The city where Christians believe Jesus was born is usually a focal point of the holiday, with thousands packing the streets and filling the hotels.

But Israel, which controls all entrances to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, barred its borders to foreigners in an effort to rein in infections from the Omicron strain of the coronavirus.

“It’s very strange,” said Kristel Elayyan, a Dutchwoman married to a Palestinian, who came to Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

READ ALSO: US Health Regulator Authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 Pill

“Before (the pandemic), you had a bunch of people coming in from different countries to celebrate Christmas, and now you know that everybody who is here is probably not a tourist.”

Last year, Bethlehem curtailed the celebration sharply because of the pandemic, with a virtual tree lighting and just a handful of visiting scout troops.

This year, the celebrations are certainly more vibrant — but still just a fraction of their usual size.

“If it’s one year, it’s an interesting experience,” Elayyan added of the pandemic.

“But because this is the second year and we don’t know what is going to come in the future, it’s a huge loss for the people here.”

Local visitors

An upbeat Palestinian tourism minister Rula Maayah said it is “thanks to the vaccines” that Bethlehem is celebrating again.

On average, Bethlehem welcomed three million visitors a year before the pandemic, with Christmas alone drawing 10,000 people to the city’s hotels, around half from abroad.

The municipality said it worked this year to appeal to local visitors from Palestinian communities across the Holy Land.

Christians visit the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus Christ's birth, during Christmas celebrations in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on December 24, 2021. ABBAS MOMANI / AFP
Christians visit the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus Christ’s birth, during Christmas celebrations in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on December 24, 2021. ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

 

Some hotels were busy, but about a quarter of available rooms citywide were shuttered because of the pandemic, said Elias Arja, head of the Palestinian Hotel Association.

Several businesses kept their doors shut on Friday, despite Christmas Eve being the most important day of the year for Bethlehem.

Inside the Church of the Nativity, visitors were even able to meditate nearly alone at the grotto where Jesus is said to have been born.

“Surreal,” observed Hudson Harder, a 21-year-old American student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“Of course there is a selfish part where it’s like, ‘Oh, I get to see this place so empty’, but on the other hand you feel for the shops, all the money they are losing.”

‘Worse than war’

Steps away from the basilica, the images of Popes John Paul II and Francis cover the front of a shop selling carved olive wood figures and nativity scenes.

Owner Victor Epiphane Tabash said it was his 57th Christmas behind the counter. For him, as for many shopkeepers around Manger Square, “there is nothing to say about Christmas”.

“Only the scouts give a bit of the holiday feeling,” he said, as troops of uniformed scouts marched past, blasting out Christmas carols on drums, trumpets and bagpipes.

Tabash said he kept his business alive during the pandemic by exporting, because no customers came to buy in person. He compared the pandemic to two previous Palestinian uprisings, or intifadas.

“We have lived through the intifadas, wars. But the coronavirus is worse,” he said.

Outside, Maram Saeed, a Palestinian woman from Jerusalem, took a selfie with her husband and two children in front of a towering Christmas tree decorated with shining red and gold spheres.

Saeed said it was a time of joy after many days of depression.

“It’s not like a usual year, we have the fear of the worst, we still fear Covid,” she told AFP.

“When there is war, we know the enemy, and we know who we are fighting. But with Covid, it’s a very tiny enemy that we don’t see, so it’s worse.”

 

AFP

WHO Calls For Treaty To Shield Against Next Pandemic

In this file photo taken on March 11, 2020 shows World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attending a press briefing on COVID-19 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The world must study the wreckage of Covid-19 and say “never again” by striking a pandemic preparedness treaty, the WHO said Monday as countries gathered to build the foundations of a new accord.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said another disastrous pandemic was bound to happen unless countries showed the resolve to strengthen global defences.

Nations are meeting in Geneva from Monday to Wednesday to discuss an international agreement setting out how to handle the next pandemic — which experts fear is only a matter of time.

READ ALSO: Australia Halts Border Reopening As WHO Warns On New Variant

The gathering comes with the planet still besieged by Covid-19, nearly two years on from the first cases recorded in China, and now shaken by Omicron, the new Covid variant of concern.

WHO member states reached a consensus Sunday on kick-starting the process towards a pandemic treaty.

The draft decision was secured after countries agreed to compromise — notably the United States, which is luke-warm on whether the outcome needs to be a legally-binding treaty.

The decision is expected to be formalised on Wednesday.

Shadow of Omicron

“The emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Tedros told world leaders at the start of the three-day gathering.

“Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics.

“Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we’re done with Covid-19, it’s not done with us.

“It will all happen again unless you, the nations of the world, can come together to say with one voice: never again.”

This meeting of the World Health Assembly — the WHO’s decision-making body comprising all 194 member states — is an unprecedented special session on how to handle the next pandemic.

It should thrash out how far countries are prepared to go towards legally-binding commitments on issues like equitable vaccine distribution, knowledge-sharing, financing and oversight structures, with any final deal due to come into force in 2024.

A key issue down the line could be whether countries want beefed-up powers for the WHO to investigate the sources of outbreaks. Tedros said the lack of data-sharing early in the Covid pandemic had been a hindrance.

“One of the expectations of this treaty is to be able to improve the WHO’s capacity to monitor and assess the situation in countries: the investigative power of WHO,” a French diplomatic source said.

‘Make history’

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the world was unprepared for Covid-19 and “for that weakness, we all paid a great price.”

“Steps must be taken to ensure that this will not happen again, that when the next pandemic comes, and it will come, it will find us better prepared,” he said.

Under the draft decision, WHO member states agree to establish an intergovernmental negotiating body “to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response”.

The body’s first meeting must be no later than March 1 next year to elect two co-chairs and four vice-chairs.

A progress report will be presented at the regular World Health Assembly annual gathering in 2023, with the final outcome presented for consideration at the 2024 WHA.

European Council President Charles Michel, who first got the ball rolling on a pandemic treaty, said: “I hope we will make history. The situation in the world demands it.

“Yesterday’s informal agreement is a huge step, and now it’s time to capitalise on this momentum to make the world a safer place.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for reform of how countries fund the WHO so it can react more flexibly to crises.

“Measures for better prevention and response to pandemics should be laid down in a pandemic treaty, binding under international law,” she said.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said the world needed to take immediate, bold action, as he called for a legally-binding instrument.

“The issues at stake are too important. We don’t have the right to fail,” he said.

Australia Halts Border Reopening As WHO Warns On New Variant

A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia's largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP
A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia’s largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Australia on Monday halted a plan to relax border restrictions imposed last year to fight the Covid pandemic, as a new variant sweeping the world prompted the WHO to warn of potential “severe” consequences.

Countries across the world have reacted to the Omicron strain, first identified in southern Africa, by slamming their borders shut despite the variant having already reached Europe, Asia and North America.

Australia, which has already confirmed five cases of Omicron, was set to relax restrictions on skilled workers and students from Wednesday in a boon to industries suffering labour shortages under one of the world’s toughest border regimes.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a two-week delay on the plan to allow Australia to gather information on the new variant, following announcements from Japan and Israel of bans on foreign travellers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the overall risk from Omicron was “very high” and warned that any major surge would put pressure on health systems and cause more deaths.

Many governments, particularly in western Europe, are already struggling with rapid rises in cases and have reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns — leaving high street businesses fearing another grim Christmas.

Health ministers from the G7 group of the world’s richest nations are set to meet later on Monday to discuss the new strain, with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warning that the world was in a “race against time”.

‘Afrophobia’ jibe

The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant was in South Africa on November 9, with infections spreading rapidly in the country — although no deaths have yet been reported, according to the WHO.

It warned however that “if another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe.”

Scientists in South Africa flagged the new strain last Thursday, prompting several European countries to quickly ban flights from the region.

That irritated South African officials who said they were being “punished” for identifying a strain that has now been detected everywhere from the Netherlands to the UK, Canada to Hong Kong.

The WHO’s Africa branch said barring travellers from the continent “attacks global solidarity”, and Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera accused Western countries of “Afrophobia”.

Underlining the difficulties of containing the spread, Austria and Scotland, which both have flight bans in place from several African countries, confirmed their first cases of Omicron on Monday.

Nevertheless, Japan joined a growing list of countries reimposing tough border controls, barring all new foreign arrivals.

The Philippines also said it would temporarily suspend plans to allow in fully vaccinated tourists.

Milder symptoms

It remains unclear how infectious Omicron is and how resistant it could be to vaccines.

The WHO’s latest technical update called it a “highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations”, warning that some of these mutations might be associated with easier transmission and may have the potential to dodge protections including vaccination — though this is yet to be demonstrated.

South African doctor Angelique Coetzee, who raised the alarm over Omicron, said it was a shame that it had been labelled “extremely dangerous” as the cases she had seen suggested the symptoms were milder than other variants.

Portugal on Monday became the latest country to confirm a potential outbreak of the new variant — at a top-flight football club that was forced to field nine players in a match that was eventually called off with the team 7-0 down.

“Preliminary tests carried out by INSA strongly suggest that all 13 cases associated to Belenenses players are linked to the Omicron variant of concern,” Portugal’s national health institute said on Monday.

With the spread of the new variant and rising cases overall, governments are struggling to enforce new measures.

Dutch police arrested a couple who fled a quarantine hotel and boarded a flight to Spain, despite one of them having tested positive for Covid.

And populations are continuing to rebel — tens of thousands taking to the streets in Austria over the weekend to object to mandatory vaccinations.

AFP

Biden Taps US Oil Reserves To Tame Fuel Prices

US President Joe Biden announces Jerome Powell as his nominee for Chair and Lael Brainard as Vice Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Systems during an event at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 22, 2021.  (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden reached for the US strategic oil reserves Tuesday in an attempt to flatten fuel price rises pummeling Americans at Thanksgiving — and hoping to reignite his own political fortunes.

The White House said the effort to tamp down the oil market by using emergency reserves was for the first time being done in conjunction with other countries, following weeks of negotiations.

“This release will be taken in parallel with other major energy consuming nations including China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom,” the White House said in a statement.

READ ALSO: CBN MPC Retains Rates At 11.5%

As the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, oil production has not kept pace with rocketing demand, pushing prices up.

In the United States, the hike in gasoline prices is one of the main culprits in a wider surge of inflation.

And Biden’s announcement comes as Americans enter the holiday season, with millions traveling home or on vacation for this Thursday’s Thanksgiving.

Average fuel prices at filling stations are $3.41 a gallon, the highest level since 2014, according to latest figures from the AAA motorists’ association. This represents an increase of $1.29 over gasoline prices a year ago.

Biden and his wife Jill are also traveling to family or friends ahead of Thanksgiving, although in his case it will be on Air Force One later Tuesday for a short flight to the picturesque island of Nantucket.

But high fuel prices are not only making holiday travel expensive. High transport costs are also juicing costs throughout the economy, leading to soaring inflation for everything from second hand cars to the Thanksgiving turkeys.

While the economy is generally doing well, with employment rapidly rising, wages up and the stock market climbing ever higher, sticker shock at the pump and in the supermarket has soured the national mood. That in turn has badly weakened Biden.

In the latest average of polls from fivethirtyeight.com, Biden’s approval rating is just 42.8, with 52.2 percent disapproving.

Energy companies under scrutiny

The US strategic reserves, held in underground depots in Texas and Louisiana, are the largest emergency supply of oil in the world.

A senior administration official said the releases would start in mid- to late December, and that further intervention was possible to steady the market, “responding to a once-in-a-century pandemic.”

“As the president has said, consumers are facing pain at the pump right now,” the official said.

“The president stands ready to take additional action if needed and is prepared to use his full authorities, working in coordination with the rest of the world, to maintain adequate supply as we exit the pandemic.”

Against a backdrop of rising output, oil prices have already dipped nearly 10 percent in the last few weeks. But officials echoed Biden’s repeatedly stated concerns that despite easing of crude values, prices of gasoline for drivers have only gone up.

“There is mounting evidence that declines in oil prices and the cost of other inputs into gasoline are not translating into lower prices at the pump,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the government was looking into “anti-competitive practices” and will “examine whether illegal conduct is costing families at the pump.”

The approach is “two-pronged. First, making sure that, you know, the price of oil is coming down, reflecting the fact that we have to have supply matching demand, but also making sure that those savings are passed through to consumers,” he said.

“We expect the industry to be passing through the savings to consumers as quickly as possible.”

Cheers, Tears As Australia’s Border Reopens After Almost 600 Days

Family members celebrate upon being reunited on arrival at Sydney’s International Airport on November 1, 2021, as Australia’s international border reopened almost 600 days after a pandemic closure began. (Photo by Saeed Khan / AFP)

 

Australia’s international border reopened on Monday almost 600 days after a pandemic closure began, sparking emotional scenes at Sydney airport as loved ones reunited.

Shortly after dawn, bleary-eyed passengers began to trickle into the arrivals terminal at Kingsford Smith International and were quickly wrapped up in the tearful embraces of flower-clutching relatives.

On March 20 last year, Australia introduced some of the world’s toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Almost all travel to the island continent halted, prompting critics to dub the country a “hermit state”.

Tim Turner, who had not seen his son for more than a year, said it was “pretty brilliant” that they were now able to reunite.

Arriving in Sydney was “beautiful, beautiful”, he told reporters at the airport.

Julie Choo, who flew back from the UK to visit her sick mother in hospital, said she was trying not to cry as the plane touched down.

“I just can’t wait to touch my mother’s hand when I see her. I can’t wait to hold her,” she said. “It’s going to be very emotional.”

For the last 19 months, Australians have been banned from travelling overseas without permission.

Families were split across continents, and tens of thousands of nationals were stranded overseas.

The few who did gain permission to enter were forced to spend thousands of dollars and agree to spend 14 days locked in a hotel room.

Those conditions have now been dropped for the country’s two largest cities — Sydney and Melbourne — which will now allow vaccinated Australians to come and go without quarantine of any kind.

But for some, like Lucinda Botlero, the long-awaited reopening comes agonisingly late.

“I haven’t seen my family for four years, we’ve been trying to get in for a year and a half,” she said.

“It’s a very mixed feeling. Because I still couldn’t see my dad alive. He passed away just a week ago. We’re just a week late, but it’s still really gratifying that I’ll be able to attend his funeral now.”

– Leaving the island –

As some Australians returned home, others stuck in the country took the opportunity to leave.

Abhi Bajaj, 35, said it was “too overwhelming” that he could now travel to the United States to celebrate Christmas with family after two years apart.

“I was waiting for this day for a long time,” he told AFP, before boarding a flight to Los Angeles.

Australian airline Qantas had grounded much of its fleet for more than 18 months, with CEO Alan Joyce calling the resumption of regular international flights “a long time coming”.

“It’s wonderful to see Australians able to reunite with loved ones after such a long time apart,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a “big day for Australia”, posting on Facebook that the country was now “ready for take-off!”

Travel is expected to resume slowly after such a protracted shutdown, with low passenger numbers on the first flights to arrive.

More than one million foreign residents remain stuck in Australia unable to see friends or relatives overseas, with the relaxed travel rules applying mainly to citizens.

And some Australian states with lower vaccination rates will remain virtually closed to the world, as they still have mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine.