Saturday, November 27, 2021
New COVID variant dubbed 'omicron' by WHO; vaccine makers already have contingency plans: Latest updates
Experts with the World Health Organization met Friday to assess the variant, which appears to have a high number of mutations in the virus’ spike protein, prompting worries about how easily it will spread. While good data on the risks of omicron is likely weeks away, the organization cited early evidence suggesting an increased risk of reinfection.
The U.S. said it will restrict travel from South Africa, as well as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, according to a statement from senior officials from the Biden administration.
The policy will take effect Monday, and President Joe Biden said the new rules mean “no travel” to or from the designated countries, except for returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents who test negative.
Infection rates in South Africa have "increased steeply," coinciding with the detection of the variant, according to a Friday statement from the WHO. The first omicron case was reported to the agency from South Africa on Nov. 24, and the number of cases of the variant are increasing in almost all South African provinces, the WHO said.
While omicron is now in the same category as the delta variant, the extent of the public health threat the new variant will pose is unclear. The beta variant was classified a variant of concern but did not spread as far as initially expected.
The WHO urged countries to increase surveillance of omicron cases and genome sequencing efforts to better understand its potential impact.
Biden said the emergence of omicron emphasizes the importance of vaccinations and urged Americans to get their booster shots as soon as possible.
The new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, according to Joe Phaahla, the nation's health minister. Phaahla said the variant has seen rapid spread in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.
Friday, November 26, 2021
Thursday, November 25, 2021
The Department of Defense is creating a new investigative body to track and analyze "unidentified aerial phenomena," as concerns grow about national security risks posed by UFOs.
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, in a memo released Tuesday, announced the creation of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, "to assess, and as appropriate, mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security."
The move comes after the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in June 2021 gave to Congress a report about unidentified aerial phenomena," or UAPs. The report identified just one of the 144 reported UAP cases as a large, deflating balloon; observers in 18 incidents described "unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics," which suggested advanced technology.
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That report was the result of interest after the Pentagon in April 2020 unclassified three videos of “unidentified aerial phenomena” or UAPs, not UFOs. The Defense Department in August established within the Navy, a "UAP Task Force." Then, in December, Congress approved funding in the coronavirus relief bill for a report about unidentified aircraft in restricted airspace.
When the report was released in June, Hicks said the Defense Department would "establish procedures to synchronize collection, reporting and analysis on the UAP problem set, and to establish recommendations for securing military test and training ranges."
But Luis Elizondo, the former director of the defense department's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, who discussed UFOs on "60 Minutes" earlier this year, questioned whether the public will be served by the Defense Department's plan. The undersecretary's office "has underplayed and tried to kill the UAP effort for years," he tweeted.
He suggested the move is an attempt to "circumvent" the U.S. Senate's interested in the topic. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which would create an advisory committee with experts from NASA, the FAA and other scientific organizations, Politico reported.