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Sydney braces for more Omicron cases but no lockdowns for now

Australian authorities on Wednesday flagged another probable case of the Omicron variant in Sydney as they braced for more infections after at least two international travelers visited several locations in the city while likely infectious.

Officials in New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, said initial testing “strongly indicates” a man in his 40s, who arrived from southern Africa on Nov. 25, had been infected with the Omicron variant and had spent time in the community.

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“We believe it is likely it will be confirmed later this afternoon as a definite Omicron case,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters, but he ruled out lockdowns to contain the newly identified variant.

“I feel like it’s time for a change in approach. We don’t know how many more variants of this virus are going to come,” Hazzard said.

Sydney, Australia’s largest city, came out of nearly four months of lockdown in early October to contain a Delta outbreak and has been gradually easing curbs after higher vaccinations.

Omicron has prompted Australia to delay by two weeks its plans to reopen its borders from Wednesday to skilled migrants and foreign students. Mandatory two-week quarantine has been enforced for citizens returning from southern African countries.

Vaccinated Australians reaching Sydney and Melbourne from all other countries must now quarantine for 72 hours. Other states have not opened their international borders yet.

“It’s very confusing, it was very emotional … I did lots of praying. I just thought I’m going to land here and see what happens,” Lorelle Molde, who returned to Australia from the US, told Reuters at the Sydney airport.

When confirmed, the latest probable case would bring the total number of confirmed infections in Australia to seven, with six detected in NSW.

The other person who contracted the Omicron variant is in isolation in the quarantine facility in the remote Northern Territory. Police said three people were taken into custody after escaping from the facility early Wednesday morning.

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Authorities on Tuesday confirmed the country’s first community case of the new variant but the national cabinet decided against more restrictions and to wait for more data on its severity and transmissibility.

Australia has recorded around 212,000 cases and 2,012 deaths from COVID-19.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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