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First omicron variant case detected in Gaza, says Palestinian health ministry

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The Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday it had identified the first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in the Gaza Strip.

The carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory, ministry official Majdi Dhair told a news conference.

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Dhair said this meant the variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong last month, existed in Gaza and was now spreading among the population. The discovery poses a new challenge to the enclave's under-developed health system.

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“We are ahead of difficult days. It is expected that the omicron variant will spread fast,” he told reporters.
Gaza, with a population of 2.2 million people, has registered 189,837 COVID-19 infections and 1,691 deaths.
Dhair urged Gazans to get vaccinated, putting the percentage of those who had already received shots at around 40 percent.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, three cases of omicron variant had been detected among Palestinians on Dec. 16 and the number had since risen to 23 among the 3.1 million population, Palestinian health authorities said.

Read more: Omicron hospitalization risk is far below delta’s in two studies

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‘Wuhan, I Am Here’: Film follows volunteers in Chinese sealed city due to COVID-19

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The homeless, the sick, the elderly: For people who fell through the cracks of the official system, the then-unprecedented decision to isolate the central Chinese city of Wuhan and its 13 million people was a matter of life or death at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Film director Lan Bo hopes to sound the alarm with a documentary, “Wuhan, I Am Here,” about volunteers who helped neighbors get food and medical care following the lockdown in early 2020 of the city where the coronavirus pandemic began.

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The documentary comes as China has renewed similar lockdowns in three other cities since mid-December to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. The number of people confined to their homes totaled some 20 million people in early January.

The government’s decision to commandeer Wuhan’s hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients meant many people with other problems were turned away.

The film begins with a woman in tears outside a hospital that wouldn’t admit her husband for treatment of lung cancer. Volunteers secured a bed for him by talking with a Beijing hospital and working medical connections.

Other families struggled to get treatment for children with severe conditions.

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“At that time, medical resources focused on COVID-19 patients, so it wasn’t their turn” to be treated, said Lan.

“Those who needed dialysis, those who had cancer and AIDS patients who needed medicine,” said Lan. “In addition, patients in critical condition and needed to be hospitalized — what were they going to do? We were all thinking about these questions.”

The government sent truckloads of food daily to apartment compounds. But elderly people who couldn’t leave their homes and the homeless relied on volunteers to get food for them.

Lan chronicles the hurdles volunteers encountered. They needed permits to drive in different areas of Wuhan. They were stopped by local officials who said they lacked permission to distribute food and other supplies.

The lockdown of Wuhan, which spread to other Chinese cities, was later imitated by some Asian and Western governments as the virus spread.

China’s unusually stringent “zero tolerance” strategy that aimed to find and isolate every infected person helped to keep the country’s case numbers relatively low.

The National Health Commission has reported a total of 4,636 fatalities — and none since early 2021 — out of 105,484 confirmed cases.

In the latest lockdown, most access to Xi’an in the west and its 13 million people was suspended in mid-December.

The city government has been criticized for food shortages and the severity of anti-disease measures imposed under pressure from Beijing to bring down case numbers.

A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage after being turned away from a hospital, reportedly for lacking current COVID-19 test results.

Xi’an failed to learn from Wuhan about the importance of volunteers, Lan said.

Especially the pandemic in Xi’an, what I saw is the government’s neglect of civilian forces, which resulted in the lack of adequate treatment at the grassroots level,” Lan said.

“Why was Wuhan able to get through this?” Lan said. “I think in addition to our country and the government’s huge input into resources, it was also because of the contributions of the tens of thousands of volunteers that worked in obscurity.”

Lan has applied for government approval to release the “Wuhan, I Am Here” in China. It was screened at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in Japan last year.

Under a lockdown, “it is this kind of daily life that sometimes determines the life and death of a person and determines the destiny of the person,” Lan said.

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Saudi Arabia marks further drop in daily COVID-19 infections with 4,608 new cases

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reported on Saturday 4,608 COVID-19 cases and two new deaths in 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health.

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Rio carnival postponed as COVID-19 cases surge in Brazil

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The world-famous Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro will be held in late April rather than the final weekend of February, as the number of coronavirus cases in Brazil spikes and the omicron variant spreads across the country.

“The decision was made respecting for the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil and the need, at this time, to preserve lives and join forces to drive vaccination throughout the country,” said a statement issued Friday jointly by the cities of Rio and Sao Paulo, which also delayed the start of its Carnival parades until April 21.

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Earlier in the afternoon, Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes and his Sao Paulo counterpart Ricardo Nunes held a video call along with their respective health secretaries and each city’s league of samba schools that put on the parade, according to the statement.

Paes announced weeks ago that his city’s raucous street parties, some of which draw hundreds of thousands of revelers, wouldn’t proceed in the manner they did before the pandemic, but without clarifying what shape they might take.

He said at the time, however, that samba schools’ parades through the Sambadrome would proceed as planned, in light of the relative ease with which vaccination status and negative coronavirus tests could be checked upon entry.

The parade through the Sambadrome is a major tourist draw for Rio and the central fixture of the city’s pre-Lenten party. It draws tens of thousands of spectators in its bleachers and tens of millions watch from home.

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