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Japan starts booster COVID-19 vaccinations amid scare over Omicron variant

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Japan on Wednesday started offering coronavirus vaccine booster shots to health care workers amid growing concerns over a new variant of the virus that has already been detected in the country.

Japan’s initial vaccination drive kicked off in mid-February and some medical workers who received jabs more than nine months ago are now eager to get additional protection ahead of a possible next wave of infections — especially after the new variant known as omicron, which was first reported in South Africa last week, was found in Japan on Tuesday.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

At Tokyo Medical Center, a group of nurses and doctors received booster shots.
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“It’s an important first step for our patients and their families to be treated with a sense of safety,” said hospital chief Kazuhiro Araki.

Even though vaccine efficacy against the new variant is still being examined, booster shots are important, Araki said, because the vaccines remain effective against other strains of the virus, including delta, which put heavy pressure on Japan’s health care systems this summer.

In principle, those who received their second shot eight months ago are eligible for a third shot to prevent breakthrough infections. Eligibility may be shortened to six months if there is a resurgence of infections, officials said.

Japan’s vaccination rollout got off to a slow start but surged from late May onward and now about 77 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — a main reason experts cite for Japan’s steady slowing of infections since September.

Booster shots for elderly people, who received their initial inoculations starting in April, are expected to begin in January.

The booster vaccination drive began amid a global scare over the new variant. The first case of omicron in Japan was detected on Tuesday in a Namibian diplomat who recently arrived from that country.

Japan banned all foreign visitors starting Tuesday as an emergency precaution against the new variant. The ban tentatively extends through the end of the year. The government is also requiring Japanese nationals arriving in the country to quarantine for up to 14 days.

The World Health Organization warned on Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

Read more:

How South African scientists spotted the Omicron COVID-19 variant

Air travelers to US set to face tougher COVID-19 testing in response to Omicron

WHO warns against blanket travel bans over Omicron coronavirus variant

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US considering moving troops from Western Europe to Eastern Europe: NATO diplomat

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The United States is considering transferring some troops stationed in Western Europe to Eastern Europe in the coming weeks, a NATO diplomat told Reuters, amid escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

“This has to do with American troops that are already in Europe,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirming a New York Times report that said US President Joe Biden was considering sending US troops to the Baltics and Eastern European allies.

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NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets, in what Russia denounced as an escalation of tensions over Ukraine.

The diplomat said the potential troop movements would be gradual and that any filling of NATO gaps on its eastern flank could take place in the coming weeks.

Read more: From Kyiv, top US diplomat warns Russia against Ukraine aggression

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Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead

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A lone gunman wounded several people at a lecture theater in the southwestern German city of Heidelberg on Monday, police said.

Police said in a brief statement that the perpetrator was dead, but didn’t give details of how that happened. They had earlier asked people on Twitter to avoid the Neuenheimer Feld area of Heidelberg, where the city’s university campus is located.

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Police didn’t specify how many people were wounded, or how seriously, and there was no information on their identities or that of the suspected shooter. The university’s press office declined to give any details on the shooting and referred all inquiries to police.

German news agency dpa cited unidentified security sources as saying that the gunman killed himself.

Police said the weapon used in the shooting was a long-barreled firearm.

Heidelberg is located south of Frankfurt and has about 160,000 inhabitants. Its university is one of Germany’s best-known.

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Aramco CEO says oil demand nearing pre-pandemic levels: Report

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Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Al Nasser said that the demand for oil is nearing pre-pandemic levels, Asharq Business reported in a tweet on Monday.

Read more:

Saudi Aramco signs 50 agreements during IKTVA conference

Saudi Aramco to establish presence in China to focus on non-metals in construction

EIG-led investors in Aramco oil pipelines hire banks for dual-tranche bonds

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